December 20, 2006 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Northrop Grumman reported yesterday that the first center fuselage section for the Marine Corps variant of the F-35 joint strike fighter has been completed and that work began on the assembly of the first fuselage for the Navy.
Technicians inspect the center fuselage for the first F-35 JSF, which arrived on on May 3rd 2005, at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. The completed midsection, built by Northrop Grumman in Palmdale, Calif.,was shipped on Saturday, April 30.
On the heels of the successful first flight of the Air Force version of the F-35 Lightning II on Friday, the JSF
team celebrated the two milestones at Northrop Grumman's plant at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale.
The center fuselage rolled out Tuesday at the plant in Palmdale, Calif., is only the second such section produced since the JSF went into production. The first was delivered in 2005 and is part of the Air Force variant that began flight-testing this month in Texas.
The fuselage sections are put together on a cutting-edge assembly line that employs a modular approach in which major systems are put together as complete structures and then married to the airframe itself.
The center fuselage for the Marine Corps variant will be delivered early next month to Lockheed Martin's plant in Fort Worth, Texas, where final assembly of the jets will be performed. The Navy version will be delivered late next year.
Once the planes are put together, they will join the Air Force in an extensive flight-testing program leading up to full production.
The jets are being built in a conventional takeoff and landing version for the Air Force, as well as in a version equipped to land on Navy carriers and one for the Marine Corps that can take off and land vertically.
Fifteen F-35s will undergo flight testing, six will be used for ground testing and another one will validate the aircraft's radar signature.
Continuing its march towards low rate initial production, Northrop Grumman currently has ten F-35 center fuselages in various stages of production. Those are the first of thousands that will be built for the program. Currently, U.S. and United Kingdom sales alone account for nearly 2,600 aircraft.
The inaugural flight of the first F-35, a preproduction conventional takeoff and landing variant (CTOL
), took place on December 15th. The second test flight will occur sometime later this week.