F-35 Lightning II: Flight operations expand, Australian contracts in works

This is the first optimized version of Lockheed Martin's composites-intensive F-35, a conventional take-off and landing variant.

Lockheed Martin’s (Bethesda, Md.) first optimized conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35 Lightning II fighter made its inaugural flight on Nov. 14, 2009, the fourth F-35 to begin flight operations. The aircraft joins two F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variants currently in flight testing.

“The initial flight of the first optimized CTOL aircraft represents a significant achievement for the program and sets the stage for what’s promising to be a successful flight-test program,” said Maj. Gen. C.D. Moore, deputy program executive officer for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program Office. The plane was built on the same production line as the 31 Low Rate Initial Production aircraft now in assembly. Doug Pearson, Lockheed Martin vice president for F-35 test and verification, noted that “AF-1 is the first F-35 to roll off our moving assembly line at the maximum production speed of 50 inches [or 1,270 mm] per hour during a trial high-speed assembly sequence. The moving assembly line, designed to improve production quality and speed, is the first ever for a modern fighter.”

In a related development, Quickstep Holdings Ltd. (North Coogee, Western Australia) announced on Nov. 16, 2009, that it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that could lead to a contract worth up to $50 million (USD) under which Quickstep would supply composite vertical tailskins for more than 700 pairs of vertical tails that will fly on planes supplied to non-U.S. partners in the JSF program, including Australia, the U.K. and Canada. (The Australian federal government has ordered 100 F-35s.) The MOU is with Marand Precision Engineering (Melbourne, Australia), which, in turn, has signed an MOU with BAE Systems (London, U.K.) and Lockheed Martin Corp. (Littleton, Colo.), the global aerospace group that coordinates the JSF program. This news was preceded on Nov. 4 by Quickstep’s announcement that it has signed an MOU with Lockheed and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. (Los Angeles, Calif.).  The MOU could result in $700 million in contracts to manufacture doors and access panels for the JSF, with the potential for production of 19,325 parts. Quickstep hopes to finalize both long-term agreements by the end of March this year.