The first bulkhead has been attached to the keel in final assembly of the Boeing X-32A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) concept demonstrator at Palmdale, California. The company says that final assembly is running two months ahead of schedule.

The X-32A and X-32B JSF demonstrators are being built at Palmdale, using parts brought from other Boeing sites in Seattle, St Louis and Tulsa.

The aircraft will make their first flights from Palmdale in 1999 before moving to Edwards AFB for evaluation against Lockheed Martin's X-35 (Flight International, 2-8 September).

Boeing says that, if it wins the JSF competition, final assembly of production aircraft will take place in St Louis. The site is responsible for the aft-fuselage module, the first example of which is now in assembly and due to be shipped to Palmdale at the end of this year.

"As far as the airframe goes, we have completed quite a bit of the primary structural hardware," says Boeing JSF programme manager Frank Statkus. "We are doing a lot of fit check work and we should start assembly within a month on the 'B' version," he adds. "Hardware for both CTOL [conventional take-off and landing/X-32A] and STOVL [short take-off and vertical landing/X-32B] versions is being manufactured on two single machines. It has saved a lot of time. Since we don't have to accommodate a lift fan and different fuselage sections, we're dealing with fewer parts."

The subsequent assembly of the X-32B is not expected to pose much of a challenge, says Statkus. "Most of the 'B' system propulsion hardware is attached directly to the engine and there is very little additional airframe work needed to accommodate the STOVL configuration," he explains. Changes required include doors for the lift system and roll ducts.

Source: Flight International