Northrop Grumman says it is increasing the production tempo of F-35 centre fuselages, with deliveries to the manufacturer Lockheed Martin quickening from one unit every four work days to one every three.
Once the new schedule is fully implemented over approximately nine months, Northrop will have shaved one-and-a-half months off the time it takes to produce the complex piece of military hardware from 11.5 months to 10.
The units are delivered fully wired from Northrop's production plant in Palmdale, California, to Lockheed’s final assembly and checkout facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The current tempo or “production interval” is one delivery every four work days. By comparison, Northrop was producing one centre fuselage every eight days when the line first opened in 2011, the company said in a statement.
“This increase in tempo on our F-35 integrated assembly line is part of a coordinated, pre-planned effort by Northrop Grumman and its suppliers to help meet rising F-35 production requirements,” says Northrop vice president and F-35 programme manager Brian Chappel. “It also reflects our steady progress increasing the efficiency of the production line, and the size and skills of our workforce.”
Lockheed Martin delivered 36 aircraft in 2014 and 45 deliveries are due this year, but the company expects to be delivering more than 160 aircraft per year for the DOD and international customers by full-rate production.
A Lockheed spokesman tells Flightglobal the Fort Worth plant is delivering aircraft at a rate just shy of four per month, and the production rate will only increase slightly next year to meet the gradual ramp up. It currently takes about 24 months to assemble an F-35 from induction to checkout.
“That time will continue to decrease as we move toward full-rate production in approximately 2020,” the spokesman says.
Under the current full-rate production plan, by 2018 Northrop expects to be delivering one centre fuselage every 1.5 working days.
Of note, the first centre fuselage to be assembled under the three-day production interval is the 10th F-35B for the United Kingdom, BK-10, and the faster cycle will be incorporated as that unit moves down the line.
The last centre fuselage to be delivered under the four-day interval was fittingly the 200th centre fuselage for the US Air Force’s 97th F-35A (AF-97).