May 21, 2004 (by Anonymous) - Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin celebrated on Tuesday the start of assembly of the first center fuselage for the F-35 joint strike fighter.
Unlike aircraft programs of the past that involved labor-intensive assembly lines working from blueprints and ink drawings, the assembly of the joint strike fighter is being done in a world of digital, 3-D computer designs and highly automated assembly.
To assist in setting up the Palmdale manufacturing site, Northrop Grumman officials visited a Ford Motor Co. automated car manufacturing plant and hired some of its people to help with the assembly line.
Plans call for producing 2,593 joint strike fighter aircraft at a cost projected at $200 billion. The program will employ more than 800 people by the end of the decade.
The program is in the system development and demonstration phase, which involves refining the design and building test aircraft. As it's only two-and-a-half years into an 11-year development program, full production is still years away.
The service has not yet determined the number of F-35s it will purchase, but expects to have that firmed up in time for the fiscal 2006 budget request.
Lockheed Martin tested X-35 prototypes at Edwards Air Force Base in 2000 and 2001 before winning the joint strike fighter contract over Boeing. In this phase, costing $40 billion, 14 flying and eight ground test aircraft will be built.
The first test aircraft is scheduled to fly in August 2006.
Assembly began Tuesday with the installation of an air inlet duct into an assembly fixture at Northrop Grumman's facilities at Air Force Plant 42. The center fuselage makes up about 40 percent of the fighter jet.
The development of the aircraft has not been without troubles. Earlier this year, the Pentagon announced a restructuring that pushed the schedule back a year and said the development phase has climbed from $33 billion to $40 billion.
A major concern is that each of the projected aircraft versions will be overweight by several hundred pounds. Lockheed Martin has an engineering team looking at ways to reduce the weight.
Flight testing of the fighters will be conducted at Edwards Air Force Base and at the Navy's flight test center in Maryland.