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Lockheed Martin Starts F-35 Composite Forward-Fuselage Assembly

  • Monday, 19th July 2004
  • Reading time: about 3 minutes

The forward fuselage for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a next-generation, supersonic stealth aircraft commenced assembly earlier this week.

Assembly of the F-35’s wings will begin at the plant in a few weeks.

“”Today, we are witnessing the dawn of an extensive re-equipping of U.S. and allied tactical air forces. This is an important moment in the security of our country and that of our allies. It is a very big step,”” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 JSF program general manager. “”We’re in this for the long haul. The F-35 assembly that began in this plant this morning will still be going strong a generation from now.””

“”The F-35 springs from a long line of distinguished aircraft that have been produced in this factory,”” said Dain M. Hancock, president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company.

Lockheed Martin and its principal industrial partners Northrop Grumman and BAE SYSTEMS are employing an array of advanced and highly accurate manufacturing machines to help the F-35 achieve its goals of affordability, quality and assembly speed. Assembly of the centre fuselage began in May at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, Calif. BAE SYSTEMS will begin assembling the aft-fuselage and tails later this year in Samlesbury, England. Those subassemblies will be shipped to Fort Worth, where they will be mated with the wings and forward fuselage for final assembly. The F-35’s first flight is planned for 2006.

The exterior of the F-35 will comprise of mainly carbon fibre, most of which being load-bearing structure. The internal structure (spars, ribs, bulkheads, etc.) will be predominantly constructed out of aluminium alloy, with some titanium and carbon fibre internal structural components. The F-35 JSF will be about 40-percent composite by weight the most of any fighter aircraft to date.

The wings, horizontal stabilizers, vertical stabilizers, control surfaces, fuselage, flight-moveable doors (e.g., landing gear doors, weapons-bay doors, etc.) all will be produced using composites, and most will be braced internally by metallic structure.

The F-35 will set new standards for assembly precision and pace. New milling machines are accurate to within 50 microns – about one-third the width of a human hair – to ensure that the F-35’s outer shape is exact and meets its low stealth requirements. During full-rate production, assembly time for an F-35 is expected to be less than half that of current-generation fighters.

Three F-35 variants – a conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL), a short-takeoff/vertical-landing (STOVL) and a carrier variant (CV) – each derived from a common design will ensure that the F-35 meets the performance needs of the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, the U.K. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and allied defense forces worldwide, while staying within strict affordability targets.

Among the aircraft the F-35 will replace are the AV-8B Harrier, A-10, F-16, F/A-18 Hornet and the United Kingdom’s Harrier GR.7 and Sea Harrier.

Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 in conjunction with Northrop Grumman and BAE SYSTEMS. Companies worldwide are participating in the F-35’s development.

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