The last few months have seen several developments in military programs served by the composites community, a mix of endings, promising starts and meaningful progress. Matrix Composites (Rockledge, Fla.) has finished its last critical structure on the U.S. F-22 Raptor fighter jet program. Matrix was one of four companies qualified worldwide to produce specific components related to the aircraft’s low-observable fuselage and critical airframe structures. The composites-intensive F-22 was discontinued by the Obama Administration in 2010 in a cost-cutting effort. Matrix Composites has been manufacturing components on the Raptor since 2005. More than 20 trained aerospace technicians were employed at Matrix using advanced manufacturing methods and proprietary processes to build these components. Although the company has felt the impact from F-22 program termination, it anticipates significant growth in the coming three years as other key programs get underway.
Lockheed Martin (Ft. Worth, Texas) announced on Feb. 25 that the first production model of the F-35 Lightning II (photo) made its inaugural flight in preparation for delivery to the U.S. Air Force this spring. The jet will head to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to support developmental testing shortly after the Air Force takes delivery. During the flight, the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A variant, known as AF-6, underwent basic flight maneuvering and engine tests. Designed to meet U.S. Air Force requirements — this variant also is the primary export version of the Lightning II. The air forces of Italy, The Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway and Israel will employ the F-35A.
Australian advanced materials company Quickstep Holdings Ltd. (North Coogee, Western Australia) has secured another opportunity for aerospace/defense manufacturing work in Australia, announcing in early March that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky (Stratford, Conn.), a first step toward membership in Sikorsky’s global supply chain. The MOU is contingent on Sikorsky’s ability to secure a contract for the purchase of its MH-60R helicopters under the Australian Department of Defence’s Air 9000 Phase 8 program. Sikorsky is one of two helicopter suppliers that have tendered for the program, which is the Australian Department of Defence’s acquisition program for a new naval tactical helicopter fleet. If Sikorsky wins the contract (the award is expected in the third quarter of this year), the two companies intend, under the MOU, to conduct joint development work aimed at preparing Quickstep’s patented Quickstep Process for use in the Sikorsky supply chain.
The Boeing Co. (Chicago, Ill.) and Bell Helicopter (Ft. Worth, Texas) on March 2 congratulated the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) V-22 Joint Program Office following its announcement that the Bell Boeing-built, composites-intensive V-22 Osprey fleet has surpassed 100,000 flight hours. The milestone occurred Feb. 10 during a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey combat mission in Afghanistan. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264, operating out of Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, was identified as the squadron that eclipsed the 100,000-hour mark. According to Naval Safety Center records, the MV-22 has had the lowest Class A mishap rate of any rotorcraft in the Marine Corps during the past decade. The aircraft’s reduced susceptibility, lower vulnerability and advanced crashworthiness have made it the most survivable military rotorcraft ever introduced.