A Lightning Development In Production

Aerospace Manufacturing Magazine // December 13, 2017

When Lockheed Martin envisioned the F-35 Lightning II there was no doubting the ambition for its capabilities. Ed Hill discovers what this has meant for the manufacturers.

The F-35 is a fifth-generation fighter aircraft that not only benefits from the latest design, engine, avionics and software advances to give it the edge over its competitors, but through the B variant also offers short take-off and vertical landing, and through the C variant, catapult assisted aircraft carrier operations.

So, what were the trade-offs between a machine that would offer the greatest fighter performance and the more practical considerations of assembly?

Dr Don Kinard, senior technical fellow, F-35 production begins: “Every aspect of the aircraft underwent a trade study whether in performance or production. For example, when it came to cost versus weight we used aluminium where possible because it is easy to drill and lightweight. We used titanium where it was needed considering that it is harder to drill and more expensive to machine and we used composites, provided they saved enough weight to buy themselves onto the project.

“Additionally we made a lot of trades to improve the sustainability throughout the lifecycle of the aircraft. These are things that cost us more in production but work out as a lifecycle cost saving for the customer.”

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