Northrop Grumman delivers 100th F-35 center fuselage

The carbon fiber composite center fuselage, production of which was begun in March 2012, will be integrated into the 100th F-35 Lightning II, a conventional takeoff and landing variant.

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Northrop Grumman Corp. (Palmdale, Calif., USA) marked the delivery of its 100th F-35 Lightning II center fuselage to Lockheed Martin during a ceremony at its manufacturing center on March 8.

The carbon fiber composite center fuselage will be integrated into the 100th aircraft, a conventional takeoff and landing variant of the F-35, and will be designated AF-41. The jet will be delivered to the U.S. Air Force and is slated for pilot training at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.

Northrop Grumman began production on the AF-41 center fuselage in March 2012 and completed work on Feb. 26. It was shipped to Lockheed Martin on March 5. Northrop Grumman has been producing F-35 center fuselages since May 2004.

"The F-35 team should be very proud of all its hard work in reaching this milestone," said Michelle Scarpella, vice president of the F-35 program for Northrop Grumman. "All employees, suppliers and teammates focused on executing their work, always with an eye on quality and affordability. It's the reason we're able to stand here today and say that we've delivered on schedule and on budget, and that we're operating as planned."

"In 2011, we celebrated the delivery of the 50th center fuselage," said Scarpella. "It took us a little over seven years to reach that milestone. Now, about a year and a half later, we're delivering our 100th. The speed at which we reached this milestone is a testament to the commitment of our team and the efficiencies of our Integrated Assembly Line [IAL]."

The IAL maximizes robotics and automation, providing additional capacity and assembly capability while meeting engineering tolerances that are not easily achieved using manual methods. The IAL is central in producing the F-35's center fuselage as well as increasing the program's affordability, quality and efficiency. The IAL design uses a system-engineering approach to integrate tooling and structure transport, system automation, automated drilling cells and tooling mechanization coordinated across multiple build centers.

The IAL was developed and designed with the help of the Detroit-based KUKA Robotics Aerospace Division, a commercial automation integrator, and was inspired by automation systems used by American automakers.

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