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PICTURE: UK's first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter enters assembly

Northrop Grumman has begun assembling the centre fuselage for the UK's first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at its Palmdale facility in California.

The JSF industry team member says it achieved the milestone three days ahead of schedule, when it moved an all-composite air-inlet duct for short take-off and vertical landing aircraft BK-1 into an assembly jig on 26 October.

© Northrop Grumman
Work has begun on assembling STOVL aircraft BK-1 for the UK

Once completed, the centre fuselage for the UK's first of three F-35Bs that will be used to support initial operational test and evaluation of the type will be shipped to Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth final assembly site in Texas. It will be mated with BK-1's BAE Systems-produced aft fuselage and Lockheed-made forward fuselage/cockpit and wings.

BK-1 is the first JSF to enter build for a customer outside the USA. Northrop has previously delivered 25 centre fuselages during the programme's system development and demonstration and early low-rate initial production phases.

As the USA's only Level 1 partner on the JSF project, the UK has previously identified a requirement to buy up to 138 F-35Bs to meet its Joint Combat Aircraft requirement for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. However, severe pressures on the UK Ministry of Defence's budget look certain to see significantly fewer aircraft purchased to replace its remaining BAE Harrier GR7/9s.

The UK ordered its test F-35Bs in March 2009, with the assets to be produced during the JSF programme's third low-rate initial production phase. Deliveries will start in 2011.

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