No fewer than six centre fuselage sections for the RAAF’s next batch of F-35A Joint Strike Fighters are currently in production at Northrop Grumman’s F-35 Integrated Assembly Line (IAL) at Palmdale, California.
The fuselage sections are for six of the RAAF’s next eight F-35As, which are scheduled for delivery in 2018, after the first two Australian jets (AU-1 and AU-2) were handed over in 2014.
“We’ve currently delivered two aircraft to the Australian air force, we have six aircraft that are [currently] in our assembly process, [and] we’ll actually deliver seven this year,” Corey Carruth, the F-35 IAL’s director of manufacturing, told Australian media during a tour of the Palmdale facility earlier this month.
“One of the next units we’ll deliver off our assembly line is AU-3, the third Australian unit, we’ll deliver it to Lockheed Martin in March.”
Following the delivery of the centre fuselage of AU-3 in late March, AU-4 and 5 will follow shortly after in April, Carruth said.
The next eight Australian jets are being built as part of the F-35’s low rate initial production (LRIP) batch 10.
To date Northrop Grumman has delivered over 287 F-35 centre fuselages from its Palmdale IAL, which uses the same building that it assembled the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber in. Today the IAL is delivering a centre fuselage to Lockheed Martin every three days with a production flow time of 164 days.
“We’ll actually be increasing this year to a day-and-a-half production interval, meaning we’ll deliver an airplane every day and a half and start a new airplane every day and a half,” Carruth said. “We’ll get down to about 110 days total flow.”
Northrop Grumman delivered the first RAAF F-35 centre fuselage for AU-1 in October 2013. AU-1 and AU-2 have been based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona since late 2014 as part of the International Pilot Training Center there. Of the next eight jets, two will ferry to Australia in 2018 for Australian operational test and evaluation, while the other six will be based at Luke for pilot training before being ferrying to Australia in 2020.