Designated the AF-68, the centre fuselage is expected to be integrated into a US Air Fiorce (USAF) conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant at Lockheed’s F-35 final assembly facility in Fort Worth, Texas, US.
Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems vice-president and F-35 programme manager Brian Chappel said the AF-68 delivery represents the company’s steady progress reducing the production time for the F-35 centre fuselage.
Chappel said, "It also maintains the company’s perfect record of on-time deliveries of center fuselages from our Palmdale manufacturing center to Lockheed Martin.
"We’re working closely with our customers, our suppliers and our employees to identify small changes in our assembly practices that will increase F-35 affordability while maintaining excellent quality."
The centre fuselage is the core structure around which the F-35 fighter is built, and is manufactured at the company’s Integrated Assembly Line (IAL) in Palmdale, California, US, which was established in March 2011 to improve quality, reduce costs and shorten F-35 centre fuselage assembly times.
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Besides producing centre fuselage, Northrop also designs and manufactures the aircraft’s radar and other key avionics, including electro-optical and communications subsystems, serving as a principal member of the Lockheed-led F-35 industry team.
The company is also responsible for the development of mission systems and mission-planning software, in addition to leading the team’s development of pilot and maintenance training system courseware, and management of the team’s use, support and maintenance of low-observable technologies.
Currently under development in three versions, including a CTOL variant, a short takeoff and landing (STOVL) and a carrier version (CV), the F-35 JSF is a fifth-generation multirole fighter designed to conduct ground attack, reconnaissance and air defence missions with stealth capability.
Image: A Northrop Grumman technician adds finishing touches on AF-68c entre fuselage prior to delivery to F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin. Photo: courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corp.