One Square Mile: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Marietta

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics
Photograph by Dustin Chambers

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics | Marietta | 17 miles northwest of Atlanta

They build airplanes here, and the noise is terrific: a general whirring and whining, a clatter of rivet guns. Seated before the upper wing panel of a C-130J Super Hercules, Valerie Branch plays her own part in the cacophony. Country music spills from her battered radio as she applies chemical sealant to the dome nuts that hold the wing together. The sealant gun makes a soft hiss. Time passes in the changeless artificial light of the oldest continuously operating military production line in history. Branch’s grandmother worked here, decades ago, on the B-29 Superfortress, the bomber that won World War II. Branch’s father worked here for 31 years. Now here is Valerie Branch, a 49-year-old senior mechanic, wiping away excess sealant with a paintbrush. The avionics have changed, but today’s C-130 military transport planes look much the same as the ones that first came off this line in 1955. They bring soldiers to war and bring them home. They carry supplies for disaster relief. Whenever Branch sees a C-130 on television or on a test flight outside the plant, she thinks, I was there. I built that. She is four hours into a nine-hour shift. The sealant gun hisses. The work is easy after 11 years, not mindless but nearly automatic, and so she can sit here and still go somewhere else in her mind: often the same place, West Point Lake, near the Alabama line, in a boat with her twin sister, Vanessa, and sandwiches in the cooler, and the sun rising through the fog, and the shallows full of bass, and somewhere in the world a C-130 roars through the sky, but not here on the lake in the morning, where you can barely hear a sound.

This article originally appeared in our May 2015 issue.