Lockheed Martin workers joined the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s 35-foot-wide carbon-fibre composite skinned and metal structure wing to the aircraft’s fuselage earlier this week, marking the beginning of final-assembly activities.
The uniting of three of the F-35’s four major sections – the forward fuselage, the centre fuselage and the wing was completed this week, with the assembly milestone completed on schedule, according to the company.
“”We knew that the F-35s completely digital design and manufacturing process would yield impressive results, but the precision and accuracy in the way the pieces of this first airplane fit together is almost beyond imagining,”” said Bob Elrod, executive vice president and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program general manager. “”It’s just about perfect, and it is helping us stay on schedule for first flight next year.””
With affordability as its cornerstone, the F-35 is designed for what the company call “”fast, streamlined production with extremely high standards for assembly precision and quality””. The Lockheed Martin factory in Fort Worth will produce one F-35 each working day.
“The F-35 team is committed to delivering an aircraft that brings major advances in performance, but at a cost comparable to that of existing multi-role fighters. It’s becoming clear that we are on the path to achieving the efficiencies that will enable us to do just that,”” said Ralph D. Heath, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics business area.
The F-35 is built from around 40 percent composites by weight – more than any other figter jet in existence – according to the company, with almost all of the materials used on the exterior produced from composite materials. The next-generation, stealth aircraft is designed to replace the AV-8B Harrier, A-10, F-16, F/A-18 Hornet and the United Kingdom’s Harrier GR.7 and Sea Harrier. The first F-35, a conventional-takeoff-and-landing (CTOL) variant, is scheduled for completion at year’s end.
The F-35’s aft-fuselage, built by BAE Systems in Samlesbury, England, was delivered to Lockheed Martin officials on May 17 and shipped to the Fort Worth plant, where it will become the final major subassembly joined to the rest of the aircraft. The horizontal and vertical tails, also made by BAE Systems, will be completed and delivered a short time later. The centre fuselage, produced by Northrop Grumman in Palmdale, Calif., arrived in Fort Worth on May 3, and was immediately mated to the Lockheed Martin-built forward fuselage.
Three versions of the F-35 are planned: a CTOL, a short-takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) and a carrier variant (CV). Each is derived from a common design, and will ensure that the F-35 meets the performance needs of the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, the U.K. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and allied defense forces worldwide, while staying within strict affordability targets.
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