F-35 ramp up Lasers and scanners illuminate

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Unread post20 Jan 2017, 20:40

https://www.flightglobal.com/news/artic ... -u-432983/

Lasers and scanners illuminate F-35 ramp up

BY: Leigh Giangreco Washington DC
SOURCE: Flightglobal.com
20 January, 2017

As World War II raged, US Air Force Plant 4 cranked out 17 B-24 Liberators a day for the Allied forces. The Lockheed Martin plant in Ft Worth, Texas went on to be the birthplace of the F-111 Aardvark and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Today, the dwindling F-16 line occupies a smaller facility next door known as the Falcon’s Nest, dwarfed by the colossal space, several football fields long, that is now the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter production line.

As the production line has matured, Lockheed has streamlined the construction of the three F-35 variants at Ft Worth. Movement of sub-assemblies by crane has gone; now, rail lines connect assembly stations and fighter tails glide above the factory floor. Lasers sterilize fasteners and precision-align parts from disparate international suppliers. Since the first production F-35 rolled out in 2009, touch labor on the aircraft has fallen by 75%. Highlights of a FlightGlobal tour of the Ft Worth facility include a look inside the toolbox drawers that electronically track each spanner and drill. An automated drilling machine bores 10,000 holes into the F-35’s outer mold line – over two, 8hr shifts it puts 1,500 holes in the forward fuselage alone, a feat that took about two weeks during F-16 production. The F-35 line is to its F-16 counterpart as the digital age is to the analogue past.

“When you think about the F-16, there was no digital thread, there were paper drawings,” says F-35 production vice-president Janet Nash. “The F-35 … digital system has the part numbers, has the size, has the tolerance, materials, the specs, all linked digitally, so that it can flow out to the suppliers digitally.” Lockheed will mark a new era in 2019 when it expects to achieve a monthly build rate of 17 F-35s, almost seven times the pace of any previous stealth fighter program. In 2017, Ft Worth should make about 67 jets, reaching a 100 rate during 2018. Production will peak at about 178 fighters a year in 2023, Nash says. In the next three years, Ft Worth will double its workforce. “The other piece is parts,” she adds. “We’re working really closely with our suppliers because as we ramp up, that full supply base all have to ramp up at the same time. Actually, they have to ramp up a little ahead because they have to feed us at that rate.” The Ft Worth facility is expanding its capacity to produce a maximum of 17 fighters a month, although current schedules show Lockheed reaching 15 to 16 a month, Nash says. At the same time, the production facilities in Cameri, Italy will build two jets a month for the Italian and Dutch air forces. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ facility in Nagoya, Japan will build one jet a month for the Japanese air force. At its height, the Texas line will swell to 24 final assembly stations, 48 wing positions and 16 electronic mating and alignment system (EMAS) machines. Nine EMAS machines are active today. The EMAS machine allows the seamless integration of three mate joints in the F-35’s structure, bringing together a center fuselage from Turkey or California, a forward fuselage from Ft Worth and an aft fuselage from the UK. A hair’s-breadth gap between any of these components would give away the F-35’s profile on radar. Those sections have to be joined, laser aligned and then pulled apart to examine tolerances, before cleaning and reassembly. In another departure from legacy production, Lockheed has employed a flexible overhead gantry machine to make possible the aircraft’s tight tolerances. The towering machine mills out the inner mold line of the forward fuselage, rather than stamping it out of metal. “The width of that seam is absolutely critical. We take over 11,000 measurements as the jet goes down final assembly to measure that gap and make sure it’s exactly correct before it leaves,” Nash says.

REAL WORLD WOES

But while these extraordinary measures may speed up output and make near-perfection possible, they haven’t entirely eliminated problems. In September 2016, the US Air Force grounded 15 F-35As after a fuel line glitch caused insulation inside the avionics cooling lines to crumble. A Lockheed supplier had used the wrong coating for the insulation, which deteriorated when it met fuel. The supply chain issue affected a further 42 fighters on the production line. Lockheed delivered 45 aircraft in 2015 and was supposed to deliver 53 by the end of 2016, but repairs to the polyalphaolefin coolant tubes slowed production. Nash says repairs on the 45 already delivered aircraft should be complete by the end of 2017, and delayed deliveries will be recovered at the beginning of 2018. “We’ll be back on plan next year.” While Lockheed plays catch-up with its production goals, industry partners and the government are still striving to drive down the platform’s operational and sustainment costs. The US Department of Defense unveiled a “blueprint” for production affordability at last year’s Farnborough air show, and has now extended it by two years, targeting a per-aircraft price of $85 million. In 2015, Lockheed’s price target for 2019 stood at $80 million. The blueprint program has transitioned several developmental technologies to the production line, including a new laser ablation system that rolled out of the laboratory last March. The laser surface cleaning system began as an industry technology, but Lockheed patented the laser head for the specific F-35 configuration. The company is already eyeing how it could adapt the system into a smaller unit to assist with sustainment in the field.

The machine sterilizes a nut plate – a fastener that functions like a new-age rivet – to pristine condition. Previously, the surfaces on thousands of nut plates were sanded manually and cleaned with a chemical solvent to assure perfect adherence, Nash says. While the earlier process took four workers to prep one wing in four hours, laser ablation enables workers to prep the surface in two hours and then install the nut plates. Laser ablation hasn’t cut down the number of workers needed to install the nut plates, but has reduced quality issues downstream. “The savings is beyond this area. We don’t have to do repairs and fixes down the line,” Nash says. “So it improves with defect reduction because they appear perfectly first time, every time.” In the future, Lockheed could develop a new kind of fastener that doesn’t require ablation, says Don Kinard, a senior technical fellow at Lockheed handling the F-35 fighter production system. Kinard is charged with finding cost savings for the F-35 line, but has his eye on forward-looking technologies such as augmented reality that could streamline future fighter production. “What I’d really like to do is install fasteners from one side with a robot, rather than having two people at a time doing that,” he says. “It would be a blind fastener, it would install from one side and then when you twisted it, torque it, it breaks off the stem and clamps the structure.”

AFTER THE RAPTOR

On a radar map, a 747 would appear the size of a hot air balloon and an F-16 would look like a beach ball. Drill down to legacy stealth aircraft and Lockheed’s F-117 Nighthawk would show up as a golf ball while an F-22 Raptor might appear as a pea. With the F-35, Lockheed is getting down to pebble size, according to Robert Wallace, senior manager for F-35 flight operations. Wallace, a former chief of low-observability for the US Air Force’s B-2 bomber, says the F-35 has leveraged LO qualities from the bomber – but he could not elaborate on specifics. Pilots will see a more advanced low-observable signature on the F-35 versus the F-22, but it’s the maintainers who see the greatest leap in durability. Each time a fighter returns from flight, maintainers must bring the aircraft’s stealth signature back to its original fidelity. But a fighter confronts more demanding missions than a bomber, pulling 9g while flying from hot, desert environments to high, cold altitudes. “This is one of the paradigms the maintainers have to get their heads around,” he says. “[With] previous airplanes, the skin of the airplane was just the skin of the airplane. Now they have to understand the skin of the airplane is another system on the airplane. So when you’re maintaining something like this it’s not just paint, it’s a system of systems on board the airplane that has to be factored in.” The secret to an aircraft’s low-observable signature doesn’t lie in a stealthy skin alone but in the shape, Wallace adds. Just one week before Donald Trump called Boeing to price a Super Hornet against the F-35, Wallace refuted a repeated claim that the F-35 could be substituted with a less expensive fighter covered in a stealth coating. “I know a lot of people say, ‘Oh let’s just buy more [F-15] Eagles and F-18s and F-16s and make them stealthy’,” he says. “But the three keys to stealth are shape, shape and shape.”
On the F-35, the smooth surface at the nose begins to give way to a serpentine shape with a large bump protruding before the engine intake. That bump is the first line of defense against radar, although Lockheed has also buried the F-35’s engine in the back of the aircraft to ensure its blades are hidden. While the shape is created when the center fuselage is made, the coating that completes the LO system comes into play with help from a machine called Thor. Named after the Norse god of thunder, the new robot has revolutionized the application of stealth coating on the Lightning II. In the past, Lockheed coated the inlet bump through a repetitive process that involved spraying, drying and manual measuring, followed by more spraying. Where it once took Lockheed several hours to apply coatings near the inlet ducts that give the F-35’s inlet its low-observable characteristics, the Thor robotic system injects coatings directly on to the aircraft. The rest of the jet’s coating is applied by three other robotic spray devices. Rick Luepke, a technical fellow at Lockheed and Thor’s inventor, began the project with government seed funding but developed the tooling and processes with both the government and Northrop Grumman, as part of the blueprint for affordability initiative. The blueprint initiative invested $742,000 into Thor and Lockheed estimates the robot will save $6,000 per jet and $27 million over the life of the program.
Lockheed rolled out Thor a year ago and the machine has halved the time to finish the LO molding on the inlet, Kinard says. The robot is capable of finishing one side of the fighter at a time, but Lockheed is adding a second machine, aptly named Loki – another Norse god and now a Marvel Comics character who is a sometimes enemy of Thor – to finish both sides simultaneously. The machine uses three cameras to scan a 3D image of the aircraft, which allows the robot to locate the aircraft surface for the injection process. Once the injection finishes, the system shuts down and waits an hour to allow the material to gel. Thor then heats the injection tool to 65.5˚C (150°F) and cures the low-observable material on to the aircraft. The robot then scans the inlet once more and compares the initial and final scans to derive the thickness of the material. A color map is projected on to the aircraft’s surface, to determine whether an area is too thick or thin. Thick areas appear red, thin coatings show blue and intolerance spots are green. Lockheed is currently working on a new optical scanner, which will update the color map every minute and a half, Kinard says. Luepke adds: “We’re using this color map as a visual for the finishers to be able to sand what they need to sand to get the coating to the final tolerance. But what we’re working toward is a real-time update on the color map. As they sand it turns color.” The current scanner must take several overlapping shots of the inlet to scan the entire area. The new system will be able to scan the same area in a single shot. That will slash scanning time from 20min to 90sec, Luepke says. Lockheed could not have even approached concepts like Thor with previous production lines. By the time Lockheed delivered its final F-22 to the USAF in 2012, the company had produced 187 of the fighters. That’s a sizable fleet, but a paltry number compared with F-35 production. “With F-35 being a long production run, this kind of stuff is possible,” Kinard says. “The fact that we have all these aircraft on a single assembly line allows us to apply the technologies to all the variants and they can all share that learning.”
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Unread post20 Jan 2017, 20:59

On a radar map, a 747 would appear the size of a hot air balloon and an F-16 would look like a beach ball. Drill down to legacy stealth aircraft and Lockheed’s F-117 Nighthawk would show up as a golf ball while an F-22 Raptor might appear as a pea. With the F-35, Lockheed is getting down to pebble size, according to Robert Wallace, senior manager for F-35 flight operations. Wallace, a former chief of low-observability for the US Air Force’s B-2 bomber, says the F-35 has leveraged LO qualities from the bomber – but he could not elaborate on specifics. Pilots will see a more advanced low-observable signature on the F-35 versus the F-22,...

Somebody please compute the RCS of a pea and pebble please. 8)
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Unread post20 Jan 2017, 21:12

popcorn wrote:Somebody please compute the RCS of a pea and pebble please. 8)


What kind of pea? What kind of pebble? Smooth pebble, or slightly irregular pebble? Or rough pebble?

I'd say a pea tends to be smooth, a pebble probably more irregular, so maybe more of a "spiky" RCS. But I bet it's more than a 50% reduction. :devil:
Take an F-16, stir in A-7, dollop of F-117, gob of F-22, dash of F/A-18, sprinkle with AV-8B, stir well + bake. Whaddya get? F-35.
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Unread post20 Jan 2017, 22:00

So, from a RCS perspective:
F-22 has gone down from a metal marble (0.0001 m2) to a pea.
F-35 has shrunk even more, from a golf ball (0.005 m2) to a pebble.

Remember Peter Goon's claim that the JSF had the RCS of a beach ball? HAHA :mrgreen:
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Unread post21 Jan 2017, 17:00

more proof that the f-35 is more stealthy than the raptor, makes sense that lockheed learned from raptor production and improved it with the f-35
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Unread post21 Jan 2017, 17:07

les_paul59 wrote:more proof that the f-35 is more stealthy than the raptor, makes sense that lockheed learned from raptor production and improved it with the f-35


Not only improved it, but is automating production of it and making it far more robust in terms of durability and maintainability. Impressive to say the least. One factor I have not seen discussed extensively, if at all, has to do with who has been paying for these production / automation improvements? If LM is smart, and had the funds, developing and implementing these new production technologies using IR&D (Indpendent Research and Development) funds would keep the technology in-house (i.e. proprietary) and could give LM an advantage in future aircraft / platform competitions.
Take an F-16, stir in A-7, dollop of F-117, gob of F-22, dash of F/A-18, sprinkle with AV-8B, stir well + bake. Whaddya get? F-35.
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Unread post21 Jan 2017, 20:39

Search the F-35 forum with the 'Advanced Search' thingo at the top of the page, also check the box at BTM for 'all text'.

Search Blueprint Affordability - example: viewtopic.php?f=58&t=52720&p=360786&hilit=Blueprint+Affordability#p360786
"...The US Department of Defense unveiled a “blueprint” for production affordability at last year’s Farnborough air show, and has now extended it by two years, targeting a per-aircraft price of $85 million. In 2015, Lockheed’s price target for 2019 stood at $80 million. The blueprint program has transitioned several developmental technologies to the production line, including a new laser ablation system that rolled out of the laboratory last March. The laser surface cleaning system began as an industry technology, but Lockheed patented the laser head for the specific F-35 configuration. The company is already eyeing how it could adapt the system into a smaller unit to assist with sustainment in the field...."


Another hit with PDF: viewtopic.php?f=60&t=27422&p=345899&hilit=Blueprint+Affordability#p345899

F-35 Afford Aerospace America Jul-Aug 2016 pp6.pdf: download/file.php?id=23206 (2.1Mb)

https://www.f35.com/news/detail/phase-i ... rough-2016

viewtopic.php?f=60&t=29115&p=318635&hilit=Blueprint+Affordability#p318635

MILL ME SOME TITANIUM BAE: viewtopic.php?f=60&t=27954&p=301746&hilit=Blueprint+Affordability#p301746
Made in the UK: Real-life Top Gun
17 Aug 2015 Sunday Telegraph

"...It looks like a plastic aeroplane because it's so smooth." The controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has been called many things - overweight, underpowered, overpriced to name a few - but plastic could be a first.

However, this description of the jet fighter that will be the backbone of Allied air power for the next 50 years is in fact praise, and it comes from Cliff Robson, the man at BAE Systems in charge of manufacturing the British defence giant's contribution to the aircraft.

The plastic look that Robson, F-35 senior vice-president at BAE, one of the three main partners on the Lockheed Martin-led project, is referring to results from the ultra-fine tolerances his staff work to making components for the jet. "We're producing parts to two or three thousandths of an inch - that's a third of the thickness of a human hair," says Robson. "It's this accuracy that helps the low observability stealth covering on the aircraft's skin work."

What this means is that the parts BAE mills out of titanium fit together so precisely that there are no gaps that will reflect back radio waves, making the jet all but invisible to radar...

This is where BAE's advanced manufacturing technology comes in. "System and volume will get the cost down," says Robson, referring to the schedule that will see production quadrupled but the number of staff only doubling.

"It's part of the 'blueprint for affordability' agreed between the US Department of Defence and contractors to halve the cost. There's no question of 'will it work?'," he says. "We know how we will do it and we are doing it bit by bit."...

Source: http://www.newindianexpress.com/world/M ... 978763.ece

THREE Page PDF of this article attached below.
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Unread post22 Jan 2017, 04:32

MORE or less the same article as OP (original post) but not every word checked.

4 Page PDF attached: Greased Lightning 24-30 Jan 2017 FLIGHT International LEIGH GIANGRECO
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Unread post24 Jan 2017, 12:30

popcorn wrote:On a radar map, a 747 would appear the size of a hot air balloon and an F-16 would look like a beach ball. Drill down to legacy stealth aircraft and Lockheed’s F-117 Nighthawk would show up as a golf ball while an F-22 Raptor might appear as a pea. With the F-35, Lockheed is getting down to pebble size, according to Robert Wallace, senior manager for F-35 flight operations. Wallace, a former chief of low-observability for the US Air Force’s B-2 bomber, says the F-35 has leveraged LO qualities from the bomber – but he could not elaborate on specifics. Pilots will see a more advanced low-observable signature on the F-35 versus the F-22,...

Somebody please compute the RCS of a pea and pebble please. 8)


Now this is very interesting. Of course there are peas of various sizes and pebble varies a lot as it's generic name for gravel of various grain sizes (2 to 64 mm). I found out that peas vary between 5 to 11 mm in size, so pebble in this case would be small grain size. With these values, we get:

F-22 RCS would be between 0.0001 to 0.00002 square meters. That's between -40 to -47 dB.

F-35 RCS would then be between 0.000003 to 0.00002 square meters as it's said to be lower than F-22 one. That's between -47 to -55 dB.

Anyway, let's see how this would affect theoretical radar detection range. Let's say there is a radar that detects 747 from 1000 nm away. Of course we assume that radar horizon does not apply here. Such a radar would be a very powerful one. It would detect others from approximately these distances.

F-16: about 250 nm
F-117 (golf ball RCS would be about 0.0015 m2): about 45 nm
F-22: roughly between 15 to 25 nm
F-35: roughly between 9 to 15 nm

Most radars would be totally incapable of detecting F-22 or F-35 at any range as their RCS is too small for detection. IMO, only latest AESA radars are capable of reliably detecting them at any distance as they might be sensitive enough. If radar was sensitive enough to detect them, they would see a huge amount of returns from insects, small birds, clouds, water/snow/ice in atmosphere and other such things. This means they'd have a huge amount of computing power to filter out those things while handling real targets correctly. No wonder F-35 has such a massive amount of computing power devoted to handling sensor data and sensor fusion.

Theoretical ranges for Russian Irbis-E with highest claimed detection range performance claim (400 km detection range against 3 m2 target) would leave it with:

F-16: 325 km or 175 nm
F-117: 58 km or 31.5 nm
F-22: 19 to 32 km
F-35: 10 to 19 km

I doubt it can reliably detect even F-117 and almost certainly not F-22 or F-35. As we know these values are for cued search ones and would require tracking by other sensors for it to work. Real world search ranges would be maybe half of these but as said, it likely can't detect them at any distance (if those RCS values are real). According to reports, neither could AN/APG-63 in F-15C and it's one of the most capable pre-AESA fighter radars. So the RCS values might actually be pretty close to reality. Naturally neither has such values in every direction and in every wavelength, but both are still extremely tough to find, track and engage successfully. We know that F-117 was very hard to find and it had higher RCS and basically no SA to speak of. Both F-22 and F-35 have even lower RCS and more importantly great SA in every situation. So getting them by surprise would be extremely difficult
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Unread post24 Jan 2017, 17:34

hornetfinn wrote:
F-22 RCS would be between 0.0001 to 0.00002 square meters. That's between -40 to -47 dB.

F-35 RCS would then be between 0.000003 to 0.00002 square meters as it's said to be lower than F-22 one. That's between -47 to -55 dB.

Even if I were to say the F-22 was at .0001 (a number I have long used for it and in your range) and the F-35 was at .00005 (bigger than anything you put up but still half the Raptor) that is -40 and -42dB right?

Radar question time. If the ZHUK-AE boasts a Gain of 32 and a Noise factor of 3 does this mean it can theoretically never detect an object with an RCS of -29 or lower? I doubt it is that simple (nothing ever is) but you talk about RCS simply too small for a system to detect and I get that but I am trying to figure out how to estimate that.
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Unread post25 Jan 2017, 00:02

I'd expect B-21 to push the LO envelope even further.
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Unread post25 Jan 2017, 01:01

steve2267 wrote:
popcorn wrote:Somebody please compute the RCS of a pea and pebble please. 8)


What kind of pea? What kind of pebble? Smooth pebble, or slightly irregular pebble? Or rough pebble?

I'd say a pea tends to be smooth, a pebble probably more irregular, so maybe more of a "spiky" RCS. But I bet it's more than a 50% reduction. :devil:


It's an intentionally vague use of terminology.
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Unread post25 Jan 2017, 02:37

popcorn wrote:I'd expect B-21 to push the LO envelope even further.


The B-21 may decrease LO further than the F-35, but does it NEED to?
I'm sure that question was bandied about at the Requirements phase.

Perhaps it only needs to be equal?
Under those Requirements, you might be able to put your efforts into manufacturing affordability and avoid another B-2 disaster?
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Unread post25 Jan 2017, 06:37

IMO aircraft designers have pretty much learned the lessons that come with building several generations of LO aircraft. Risks and costs related to LO are now pretty manageable and I would not be surprised if any rude surprises that may afflict the B-21 in the future are caused by some other aspect of the design.
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Unread post25 Jan 2017, 06:50

popcorn wrote:IMO aircraft designers have pretty much learned the lessons that come with building several generations of LO aircraft. Risks and costs related to LO are now pretty manageable and I would not be surprised if any rude surprises that may afflict the B-21 in the future are caused by some other aspect of the design.


The F-35 is the 3rd generation VLO aircraft that LM has designed and built. From Ben Rich's book, it sounded like LM did pretty well with F-117 production. I am guessing because of the way the Skunk Works ran the program. The F-22 apparently did not run as smoothly as costs went through the roof. Gen Bogdan stated back when he took over the JPO that the relationship with LM was the "worst he had ever seen in his acquisition experience" (quote are me paraphrasing from memory).

Boeing has none (in production).

Northrop Grumman had the B-2. Time will tell if NG learned the lessons, esp. technical, that LM did with the F-22 / F-35. If not, then the B-21 could be in for a bumpy ride if NG has to learn those lessons first hand.
Take an F-16, stir in A-7, dollop of F-117, gob of F-22, dash of F/A-18, sprinkle with AV-8B, stir well + bake. Whaddya get? F-35.
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