Craftsmanship story continues in Lunenburg as aerospace company builds parts for the F-35

More than 100 years after shipyard workers in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia fashioned the wood and metal to build the schooner Bluenose, the tradition of local handcrafting excellence lives on.

But now, instead of fishing boats, it’s fighter planes.

Located in the seaside town of Lunenburg, Stelia Aerospace has been part of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 supply chain for over a decade. Stelia’s North American headquarters is just across the harbor from the site where the Bluenose was launched in 1921.

“The Bluenose was very innovative for its time,” said Matt Risser, the city’s mayor.

“Stelia is part of the latest phase in Lunenburg’s history in this regard.”

Entrance to the Stelia North America headquarters in Lunenburg, about 100 km southwest of Halifax. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The company was commissioned to create panels and parts in composite materials. The various parts that Stelia builds for the F-35 are laid out on molds, using paper-thin layers, each placed with precision.

“All folds have a certain direction,” said Matthew Mossman, quality control inspector for Stelia. “That way workers know exactly which direction it’s supposed to go when it’s placed on the mould.”

The company builds many different parts for the plane, ranging from the panels used as part of the fuselage to the wedges used to help open and close the weapons bay doors on the underside of the jet.

The F-35 fighter jet, built by Lockheed Martin with help from contractors around the world, including Canada. (Lockheed Martin)

“You might think that manufacturing composite materials is like robots everywhere,” said André Gagnon, Managing Director and CEO of Stelia North America. “It’s not.”

He said the process was both high-tech and practical, with workers carefully shaping each piece before it went through a detailed inspection process.

Matthew Mossman, quality control inspector at Stelia in Lunenburg. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Across Canada, there are other factories and companies that are part of the F-35 supply chain, building elements of the aircraft that have so far been sold to other countries.

But with ongoing negotiations between the Canadian government and Lockheed Martin, parts made by hand at Stelia and other sites across the country may one day find their way into planes flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Born in Lunenburg County, Mossman said he was excited about the prospect of Stelia’s F-35 parts being used in Canadian-owned aircraft.

The view of one of Lunenburg’s many colorful streets. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

“I mean, we’re going to be part, potentially, of Canadian history soon,” he said.

These are handcrafted parts, made by local Lunenburg residents, to help build one of the most capable vehicles of their generation.

It worked a century ago.