Fighter Jet News

F-35 Lightning II News

First F-35 nears completion

December 20, 2005 (by Lieven Dewitte) - With the installation of horizontal tails on the first F-35, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) team has completed assembly of the aircraft's major structural components. The next milestone in the aircraft's march to first flight is engine installation, planned for early 2006.

The first part for the first F-35 JSF aircraft was cut on 10 November 2003. Since then, thousands of parts have been coming together as the team works to complete the first F-35. [USAF Photo]

"The speed and precision of assembly on this airplane continues to impress even the most experienced aerospace veterans among us and far exceeds any program that has gone before it," said Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 JSF program general manager. "The ease with which this aircraft has come together, along with the quality of the fit and finish, is simply unprecedented in a first-off-the-line aircraft. It puts us down the path toward meeting our affordability goals."

The stealthy F-35 is a supersonic, multi-role, 5thgeneration fighter designed to replace aging AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s, F/A-18 Hornets and United Kingdom Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers. First flight is planned for fall 2006.

The horizontal tails installed on Dec. 8 and the vertical tails installed on Nov. 28 were designed and manufactured by BAE Systems in Samlesbury, England. Assemblers installed the aircraft's weapons-bay doors on Dec. 7. Final assembly began in May, when workers mated the Northrop Grumman-produced center fuselage to the Lockheed Martin-built wing at the F-35's final assembly operation in Fort Worth. The BAE Systems-produced aft fuselage and the Lockheed Martin forward fuselage were also joined to the overall aircraft assembly earlier in the year. Technicians switched on electrical power to the aircraft for the first time on Sept. 7.

Pratt & Whitney will deliver the aircraft's F135 engine before the end of December. The power plant, which produces 40,000 pounds of thrust, will make the F-35 the most powerful single-engine fighter ever to fly.

Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Two separate, interchangeable F-35 engines are under development: the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan and the F136 turbofan from the General Electric Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team.