BAE Systems has begun manufacturing the aft fuselage for the UK's first Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, as a flight-test example of the type has moved closer to performing its first vertical landing.
Placed into a jig at BAE's Samlesbury site in Lancashire earlier this month, the structural frame for the F-35 will be completed in the third quarter of this year, the company says.
It will then be shipped to Lockheed's Fort Worth assembly line in Texas to be part of the first of three UK-owned short take-off and vertical landing aircraft to be used in support of initial operational test and evaluation of the JSF.
Describing BAE's role in the US-led programme as "essential to the sustainment of the UK aerospace manufacturing industry", the company's F-35 managing director Mick Ord says: "We are working hard with the UK Ministry of Defence to ensure we provide the tremendous aircraft they require."
Meanwhile, BAE employee Graham Tomlinson - lead STOVL pilot for the F-35 programme - has flown the slowest landing approach so far achieved with the type. He brought aircraft BF-1 to the ground at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland on 10 March with a forward speed of just 40kt (74km/h).
© Randy Hepp/US Navy
"The flight was one of the last missions before the aircraft's first vertical landing, and confirmed the jet's power and controllability at very low speeds," says Lockheed.