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U.S. Air Force takes first steps toward F-35 production

April 11, 2006 (by Jeff Hollenbeck) - The U.S. Department of Defense announced that it has approved the first step towards Low Rate Initial Production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

AA-1 is being weighed (20,975 lbs.) here on Jan 8th 2006, right before it is moved to its new location in preparation for control surface testing and engine fit checks.

The memorandum from Kenneth Krieg, the Pentagon's head of weapons procurement, clears the way for contracts to purchase "long lead" items needed for initial F-35 production such as composite materials and titanium which form much of the airframe structure.

While the first F-35 is scheduled for its first flight sometime in October of 2006, Lockheed Martin is looking to start production next year with the first delivery scheduled for 2009.

The F-35 is slated to replace several different types of aircraft in U.S. military service including the A-10, F-16, F/A-18C, F/A-18D, and AV-8B Harrier along with replacing the Harrier for Great Britain.

Current estimates put the cost of the F-35 program for the U.S. and Britain around $250 Billion through 2027. Other international partners in the F-35 program include Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark, and Norway with export sales expected to bring in another $200 Billion for Lockheed Martin.

Additional images:

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 first F-35A Joint Strike Fighter rolls out of Lockheed's Ft. Worth, TX assembly plant. [LMTAS photo]