Fighter Jet News

F-35 Lightning II News

F-35 Team on track for final-assembly start in late spring

February 16, 2005 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The four major subassemblies for the first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are taking shape as the program progresses toward final assembly in late spring at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth.
The Northrop Grumman-built center fuselage and the BAE Systems-built aft-fuselage and tails will be shipped respectively from Palmdale and Samlesbury to Fort Worth in the second quarter of 2005, where they will be joined with the Lockheed Martin-built wing and forward fuselage. Assembly of the initial F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant is expected to be completed at the end of the year. First flight is planned for August 2006.

Northrop Grumman started assembly of the F-35A center fuselage in February 2004, beginning with the fabrication of the composite duct assemblies. Now, a year later, the company is completing the major mate of the center-fuselage upper and lower assemblies, and has begun hydraulic-, fuel- and electrical-systems installations.

On Jan. 31 at BAE Systems in Samlesbury, the F-35 aft fuselage marked a major on-time achievement with the machining of the first production assembly of the left-hand boom. All the structural components of the vertical tail are loaded in the assembly tool and will begin machining shortly. Horizontal-tail assembly will start in the near future. F-35 machining techniques will set new standards for assembly pace and precision, ensuring that the F-35's outer shape is exact and meets its low-observability (stealth) requirements. BAE Systems' JSF Program Director Michael Christie said, "Techniques used in the machining of this first production component will fall within seven-thousandths of an inch - less than the width of a human hair."

At Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, workers have completed the initial attachment of composite skins to the forward fuselage, installed the cockpit floor, and have begun electrical-systems installation. Assembly of the wing structure is complete, and the lower composite skins were recently attached for drilling.

Manufacturing planning is currently in work for the first F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant in preparation for fabrication activities. At Northrop Grumman, assembly operations for the F-35B center fuselage are scheduled to start in the second quarter of 2005. Lockheed Martin will begin F-35B assembly in the fourth quarter of this year, and BAE Systems will start assembling F-35B components in early 2006.