Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC) has begun producing the center fuselage for the first international F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an F-35B short take off, vertical landing (STOVL) variant for the United Kingdom designated BK-1. The center fuselage is the core structure around which the F-35 aircraft is built.
The assembly process began Oct. 26 at the company's Palmdale Manufacturing Center with the loading of an all-composite air inlet duct into a special tooling structure called a jig. This first assembly process, one of approximately 18 major steps in assembling an F-35 center fuselage, consists of attaching metal frames around the duct. The frames serve to brace and position the duct properly within the center fuselage.
Northrop Grumman is a principal and founding member of the F-35 industry team led by Lockheed Martin. To date, the company has delivered 25 center fuselages -- 19 for the system development and demonstration phase, six for the low rate initial production (LRIP) phases of the program. BK-1 is being produced as part of LRIP3. The program is scheduled to produce 138 F-35Bs for the United Kingdom.
Final assembly of all F-35 jets is performed by Lockheed Martin at a facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The process includes mating a Northrop Grumman-built center fuselage to an aft fuselage produced by BAE Systems, and the forward fuselage/cockpit and wings produced by Lockheed Martin.
Northrop Grumman is responsible for the design and production of center fuselages for all three variants of F-35 aircraft: conventional takeoff and landing; short takeoff, vertical landing; and the carrier variant. The F-35 Lightning II program expects to build more than 3,100 aircraft.