Lockheed Martin and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office delivered the 500th F-35. In February, the F-35 Lightning II enterprise surpassed 250,000 flight hours.
The 500th production aircraft is a U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II, to be delivered to the Burlington Air National Guard Base in Vermont. The 500 hundred F-35s include 354 F-35A Lightning II Conventional TakeOff and Landing (CTOL) variants, 108 F-35B Lightning II Short TakeOff/Vertical Landing (STOVL) variants and 38 F-35C Lightning II Carrier (CV) variants for the U.S. and international customers. The 250,000 flight hours include all F-35s in the fleet comprised of developmental test jets, training, operational, U.S. and international aircraft.
«These milestones are a testament to the talent and dedication of the joint government, military and industry teams», said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin, vice president and general manager of the F-35 Lightning II program. «The F-35 is delivering an unprecedented 5th Generation combat capability to the warfighter at the cost of a 4th Generation legacy aircraft».
The F-35 Lightning II operates from 23 bases worldwide. More than 985 pilots and over 8,890 maintainers are trained. Nine nations use the F-35 Lightning II from their home soil, eight services have declared Initial Operating Capability and four services have employed F-35s Lightning II in combat operations.
Lockheed Martin delivered the 134th F-35 Lightning II aircraft for the year on December 30, 2019, exceeding the joint government and industry 2019 delivery goal of 131 aircraft.
One hundred and thirty-four deliveries represent a 47% increase from 2018 and nearly a 200 percent production increase from 2016. Next year, Lockheed Martin plans to deliver 141 F-35s Lightning II and is prepared to increase production volume year-over-year to hit peak production in 2023.
«This achievement is a testament to the readiness of the full F-35 enterprise to ramp to full-rate production and we continue to focus on improving on-time deliveries across the entire weapons system», said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of the F-35 Lightning II program. «We have met our annual delivery targets three years in a row and continue to increase production rates, improve efficiencies and reduce costs. The F-35 is the most capable fighter jet in the world, and we’re now delivering the 5th Generation weapon system at a cost equal to or lower than a less capable 4th Generation legacy aircraft».
The 134th aircraft is a Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL) model for the United States Marine Corps. In 2019, deliveries included 81 F-35s Lightning II for the United States, 30 for international partner nations and 23 for Foreign Military Sales customers.
Unit and Sustainment Costs Decrease, Readiness Improving
Using lessons learned, process efficiencies, production automation, facility and tooling upgrades, supply chain initiatives and more – the F-35 Lightning II enterprise continues to significantly improve efficiency and reduce costs.
The price of an F-35A Lightning II is now $77.9 million, meeting the $80 million goal a year earlier than planned.
The F-35’s Lightning II mission readiness and sustainment costs continue to improve with the global fleet averaging greater than 65% mission capable rates, and operational squadrons consistently performing near 75%.
Lockheed Martin’s sustainment cost per aircraft per year has also decreased four consecutive years, and more than 35% since 2015.
Program Maturity and Economic Impact
With more than 490 aircraft operating from 21 bases around the globe, the F-35 Lightning II plays a critical role in today’s global security environment.
Today, 975 pilots and 8,585 maintainers are trained, and the F-35 Lightning II fleet has surpassed more than 240,000 cumulative flight hours. Eight nations have F-35s Lightning II operating from a base on their home soil, eight services have declared Initial Operating Capability and four services have employed F-35s Lightning II in combat operations.
In addition to strengthening global security and partnerships, the F-35 Lightning II provides economic stability to the U.S. and international partners by creating jobs, commerce and security, and contributing to the global trade balance. Thousands of men and women in the U.S. and around the world build the F-35 Lightning II. With more than 1,400 suppliers in 47 states and Puerto Rico, the F-35 Lightning II Program supports more than 220,000 jobs.
Northrop Grumman Corporation has delivered its 500th AN/APG-81 fire control radar for the F-35 Lightning II. The Northrop Grumman AN/APG-81 active electronically scanned array is the cornerstone of the F-35’s advanced sensor suite, providing unparalleled battlespace situational awareness that translates into platform lethality, effectiveness and survivability.
«As a principal member of the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 industry team, our continued investment in facilities and equipment, production enhancements in process and design, and expanded supply chain capability through second sourcing helped reach this milestone», said Chris Fitzpatrick, director, F-35 programs, Northrop Grumman. «The 500th delivery of this top-of-the-line fighter radar was made possible by our continuous focus on quality and excellence across our company».
The AN/APG-81 radar has long-range active and passive air-to-air and air-to-ground modes that support a wide range of demanding missions. These modes are complemented by an array of stealth features as well as electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions.
Northrop Grumman plays a key role in the development, modernization, sustainment and production of the F-35. In addition to producing the AN/APG-81 radar, the company manufactures the center fuselage and wing skins for the aircraft, produces and maintains several sensor systems, avionics, mission systems and mission-planning software, pilot and maintainer training systems courseware, electronic warfare simulation test capability, and low-observable technologies.
On February 21, 2019, Northrop Grumman Corporation has completed the 500th center fuselage for the F-35 Lightning II – ahead of schedule.
«We deliver an F-35 center fuselage every 36 hours and I am very proud to say we have made all our deliveries since the inception of the program», said Frank Carus, vice president and F-35 Lightning II program manager, Northrop Grumman. «Our dedicated team works closely with the customer and suppliers to improve quality and affordability in support of the warfighter».
Designated AU-18, the 500th F-35 Lightning II center fuselage is for a conventional takeoff and landing variant for the Royal Australian Air Force. Northrop Grumman began production on the AU-18 center fuselage in June 2018 and completed work on February 21. Northrop Grumman has been producing center fuselages for all three F-35 Lightning II variants since May 2004.
«We have set the standard for the production of military aircraft», said Kevin Mickey, sector vice president and general manager, military aircraft systems, Northrop Grumman. «Our teams and suppliers are constantly finding better, more affordable ways to deliver a superior product on-time, at-cost and, as with this center fuselage, ahead of schedule. When you couple this level of commitment with advanced manufacturing technologies, it’s just a win-win situation for us, our customer and the warfighter».
A core structure of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft, the center fuselage is designed and produced on Northrop Grumman’s integrated assembly line, a state-of-the-art facility supported by technologies exclusive to or pioneered by Northrop Grumman bringing together robotics, autonomous systems, virtual 3D and predictive automation to the forefront of center fuselage production.
Lockheed Martin is the industry lead for the F-35 Lightning II program and Northrop Grumman plays a key role in the development, modernization, sustainment and production of the F-35 Lightning II. In addition to producing the center fuselage and wing skins for the aircraft, the company develops, produces and maintains several sensor systems, avionics, mission systems and mission-planning software, pilot and maintainer training systems courseware, electronic warfare simulation test capability, and low-observable technologies.
Northrop Grumman Corporation’s center fuselage of the F-35 Lightning II recently entered full-rate production. This milestone marks the beginning of a 1.5-day Production Interval (PI) meaning a center fuselage will be produced every day and a half.
«Our customers and warfighters deserve the best», said Frank Carus, vice president and F-35 program manager, Northrop Grumman. «Every efficiency, every minute, and every dollar we save reduces costs and speeds up the F-35’s availability to the warfighter. Achieving this pace is a testament to our employees, suppliers and teammates’ commitment to quality and affordability».
Carus also noted that the 400th F-35 center fuselage was completed and delivered to Lockheed Martin last month and production of the 500th F-35 center fuselage began last week.
«This pace of military aircraft production has not been seen in decades», said Kevin Mickey, sector vice president and general manager, military aircraft systems, Northrop Grumman. «Our revolutionary approach on the integrated assembly line pairs advanced technology with data-driven analytics to manufacture advanced aircraft while delivering top quality products on time, and often ahead of schedule».
A core structure of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft, the center fuselage is produced on Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Assembly Line (IAL) at its Palmdale Aircraft Integration Center of Excellence. The IAL is a state-of-the-art facility supported by technologies exclusive to or pioneered by Northrop Grumman bringing together robotics, autonomous systems, virtual 3D and predictive automation to the forefront of center fuselage production.
«As we prepare for full rate production of the F-35, many of our teammates and suppliers are now transitioning to full rate, aligning their production lead times with the F-35 final assembly that supports increased warfighter demand», said Eric Branyan, vice president of F-35 supply chain at Lockheed Martin. «Northrop Grumman plays a critical role in the F-35 enterprise and we look forward to continuing to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and deliver transformational F-35 capabilities for the men and women in uniform».
Northrop Grumman plays a key role in the development and production of the F-35 weapons system. In addition to producing the jet’s center fuselage and wing skins for the aircraft, the company develops, produces and maintains several sensor systems, avionics, mission systems and mission-planning software, pilot and maintainer training systems courseware, electronic warfare simulation test capability, and low-observable technologies.
Preparing the F-35 Lightning II, the U.S. Navy’s most advanced fighter, for missions in today’s complex electromagnetic spectrum environment requires an equally advanced test environment. Northrop Grumman’s multispectral testing solution recreates the most accurate mission-like conditions in the laboratory and on the range. Recently, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) Point Mugu took delivery of the most sophisticated test environment the company has ever created.
The environment consists of Northrop Grumman’s Combat Electromagnetic Environment Simulator (CEESIM), Signal Measurement System (SMS) and other stimulators, all under control of the Synchronizer Controller System (SCS).
«Keeping the F-35’s systems ready requires a fully integrated test environment like we have developed with CEESIM, SMS and SCS», said Joe Downie, director, land and avionics C4ISR division, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems. «These systems work together to provide the environment complexity and density, measurement and analysis capability, and test control capability necessary to evaluate the F-35 in a realistic mission scenario».
At the center of the environment is the CEESIM, which simulates multiple, simultaneous Radio Frequency (RF) emitters as well as static and dynamic platform attributes to faithfully model true-to-war conditions. CEESIM’s Advanced Pulse Generation high speed direct digital synthesizer technology is used to generate realistic electronic warfare mission scenarios.
The SMS provides wide bandwidth signal measurement, recording and analysis capability which is used to validate the test environment and evaluate the system under test performance.
The SCS provides the tools to program an integrated multispectral test scenario, including threat radars, communications signals, radar and Electro-Optical/InfraRed (EO/IR) signatures. The SCS also manages the execution of the scenario by all of the stimulators to ensure a coherent multispectral test environment.
The F-35 program has accomplished the final developmental test flight of the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the program.
«Completing F-35 SDD flight test is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication from the joint government and industry team», said Vice Adm. Mat Winter, F-35 Program Executive Officer. «Since the first flight of AA-1 in 2006, the developmental flight test program has operated for more than 11 years mishap-free, conducting more than 9,200 sorties, accumulating over 17,000 flight hours, and executing more than 65,000 test points to verify the design, durability, software, sensors, weapons capability and performance for all three F-35 variants. Congratulations to our F-35 Test Team and the broader F-35 Enterprise for delivering this new powerful and decisive capability to the warfighter».
The final SDD flight occurred 11 April 2018 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland when Navy test aircraft CF-2 completed a mission to collect loads data while carrying external 2,000-pound/907-kg GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) and AIM-9X Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles.
From flight sciences to mission systems testing, the critical work completed by F-35 test teams cleared the way for the Block 3F capability to be delivered to the operational warfighter. More than a thousand SDD flight test engineers, maintainers, pilots and support personnel took the three variants of the F-35 to their full flight envelope to test aircraft performance and flying qualities. The test team conducted 6 at-sea detachments and performed more than 1,500 vertical landing tests on the F-35B variant. The developmental flight test team completed 183 Weapon Separation Tests; 46 Weapons Delivery Accuracy tests; 33 Mission Effectiveness tests, which included numerous multi-ship missions of up to eight F-35s against advanced threats.
«The F-35 flight test program represents the most comprehensive, rigorous and the safest developmental flight test program in aviation history», said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 program. «The joint government and industry team demonstrated exceptional collaboration and expertise, and the results have given the men and women who fly the F-35 great confidence in its transformational capability».
Developmental flight test is a key component of the F-35 program’s SDD phase, which will formally be completed following an Operational Test and Evaluation and a Department of Defense decision to go into full-rate aircraft production.
While SDD required flight test is now complete, F-35 flight testing continues in support of phased capability improvements and modernization of the F-35 air system. This effort is part of the Joint Program Office’s Continuous Capability Development and Delivery (C2D2) framework, which will provide timely, affordable incremental warfighting capability improvements to maintain joint air dominance against evolving threats to the United States and its allies.
With stealth technology, advanced sensors, weapons capacity and range, the F-35 is the most lethal, survivable and connected fighter aircraft ever built. More than a fighter jet, the F-35’s ability to collect, analyze and share data is a powerful force multiplier that enhances all airborne, surface and ground-based assets in the battlespace and enables men and women in uniform to execute their mission and return home safe.
A world-leading flight engineering simulator created by BAE Systems is ready to be «flown» by F-35 Lightning II pilots for the first time as they prepare for flight trials on the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier next year.
The refurbished simulator will test pilots’ skills to the limits as they practice landing on the deck of the new aircraft carrier in a range of difficult sea and weather conditions provided by the simulator.
The bespoke £2M simulator facility offers a 360-degree immersive experience for pilots to fly the jet to and from the UK carrier. It comprises a cockpit moved by an electronic motion platform and a full representation of the ship’s Flying Control Tower (FLYCO), where a Landing Signal Officer on board the carrier will control aviation operations.
The 360-degree view for pilots is vital as potential obstacles on an aircraft carrier are often behind the pilots as they land. Over the coming months, the simulator will be used by UK and U.S. military test pilots who have experience of flying F-35s on U.S. carriers.
The pilots will practice thousands of ski jump short take-offs and vertical landings that use both the vertical thrust from the jet engine and aerodynamic lift from the wings, allowing the aircraft to take-off and land on the carrier with increased weapon and fuel loads compared to predecessor aircraft.
Peter ‘Wizzer’ Wilson, BAE Systems’ test pilot for the short take-off and vertical landing variant on the F-35 Lightning II programme, said the simulator trials will provide engineers with the data to begin flight trials on HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), the First of Class aircraft carrier in 2018.
He said: «The immersive experience is as near to the real thing as possible. The data will show us exactly what will happen when F-35 Lightning II pilots fly to and from the Queen Elizabeth carriers. The trials we can run through the simulator are far more extensive than what we will do in the actual flight trials because we can run and re-run each trial until we have all the data we need. The simulator provides greater cost efficiency for the overall programme and is extremely important to the success of the first flight trials».
Over the last 15 years, BAE Systems’ flight simulation has been used to support the design and development of the interface between the F-35 Lightning II and the UK’s next generation of aircraft carriers.
The new simulator replaces a previous version which was first built in the 1980s to develop technology for the Harrier jump-jet and the Hawk advanced jet trainer before being converted for F-35 Lightning II.
The F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet has successfully conducted its first firing trials of the MBDA Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM).
The trials are the first time a British-designed missile has been fired from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and the first time any non-US missile has been fired from the aircraft.
Conducted from both Naval Air Station Patuxent River and Edwards Air Force Base in the USA, the effort has seen both flight trials and air-launched firings of the ASRAAM successfully take place.
MBDA is currently under contract, awarded in 2016, to produce the highly capable infra-red (IR) guided air-to-air missile for the UK’s F-35s. ASRAAM’s large rocket motor and clean aerodynamic design gives it a high kinematic capability that delivers superior end-game performance compared with other countries’ in-service IR missiles.
The trials were conducted by the integrated test teams at Patuxent and Edwards, which include Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, MBDA and Northrop Grumman.
The development trials work is being conducted under the integration programme for ASRAAM onto the UK’s F-35 aircraft. This effort is currently progressing to plan and these integration activities will allow the Initial Operating Capability of the aircraft by the UK.
MBDA is also under contract for the ASRAAM Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP) to build replenishment missiles for the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. The CSP effort makes use of ASRAAM’s commonality with the CAMM missile family, also being bought by the Royal Navy and British Army, to deliver extensive cost savings across the UK Armed Forces.
The F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF) here recently completed 25 missions comprised of 12 Weapons Delivery Accuracy (WDA) and 13 weapon separation tests as part of a monthlong weapons firing test surge.
Historically, WDAs take place once a month given the myriad of coordination required. The highest number previously accomplished in a month was three in November 2014 during block 2B software testing.
Major Charles Trickey, interim director of operations for the 461st Flight Test Squadron (FTS), flew the final mission of the surge August 17. The mission was completed at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, where F-35 Lightning IIs shot two advanced medium-range, air-to-air missiles at a QF-4 drone.
«Some of these WDAs were particularly challenging events», Trickey said. He said the final mission was actually the fourth attempt to complete this test. «It was really cool to see the satisfaction of the team, and to get that feeling of accomplishment after doing something that challenging».
All told, the F-35 ITF deployed 30 weapons in 31 days, which included 12 WDAs and 13 separations, according to Trickey.
«Thirty separations in 31 days; that’s never been done before in flight test», said Captain Brett Tillman, a flight test engineer with the 461st FTS. «The fact that we could get everything together to do that number of separations in that few days is pretty amazing».
These successful test events – performed using the F-35’s newest block 3F software – demonstrated the accuracy of the aircraft. Five of the test events featured dropping multiple weapons.
The effort for this surge wasn’t limited to the F-35 test team. There were a number of units outside the F-35 ITF that put in extra effort and time to make the surge successful, including Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) airfield and tanker operations, the 416th FTS and the F-35 Joint Program Office.
The F-35 weapons test team was given exclusive use of the Sea Test Range, an instrumented Pacific Ocean test area off the central coast near Point Mugu, California. Tests were also conducted at the U.S. Navy’s China Lake weapons range in California and White Sands missile range.
«The amount of coordination and teamwork from the ITF and the outside organizations to enable this is unprecedented», Tillman said. «The work these team members put in is amazing. It couldn’t have been done without them».
During this surge period, a total of 30 weapons were dropped or fired, including the joint direct attack munition, AIM-120 advanced medium-range, air-to-air missile, GPS-guided 250-pound/113.4-kg small diameter bomb, AIM-9X Sidewinder supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile and GPS laser-guided munition.
«The WDAs rely on the full capability of the F-35 – multiple sensors, navigation, weapons envelope, mission planning, data links and inter-agency range scheduling – all working in sequence to put steel on target», said Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, an F-35 program executive officer. «This was a tremendous effort by the F-35 test team. They surged and worked seven days a week for more than a month to expend 30 ordnance and advanced weapons testing. This testing has moved us that much closer to delivering the full F-35 capability to warfighters within the next two years».
The F-35 is a multi-role, next-generation fighter that combines advanced stealth with speed, agility and a 360-degree view of the battlespace. The F-35 will form the backbone of air combat superiority for decades to come and replace legacy tactical fighter fleets with dominant air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities to deter and defeat potential adversaries.
The Marine Corps declared the F-35B combat ready, or Initial Operating Capability (IOC), in July 2015; the Air Force declared F-35A IOC on August 2; and the Navy intends to attain F-35C IOC in 2018. More than 200 F-35s have flown in excess of 66,000 fleet-wide hours, with over 300 F-35 pilots and 3,000 maintainers trained to operate and support this next-generation aircraft.