“Half of F-35’s manufacturing defects are stealth related,” Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President says

A maintainer with the 388th Fighter Wing out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, checks for structural damages on an F-35A Lightning II during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 25, 2017. For most non-structural and all structural repairs, low observable aircraft structure technicians must either fix the paneling damage or remove paneling for maintainers to repair other issues.

Stealth related defects have the potential to set back the number of planned F-35 strike fighter aircraft deliveries

As Lockheed Martin ramps up production of its F-35 stealth fighter, the company is burning time and money fixing defects on the aircraft as it rolls out of the production line.

Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President and F-35 Program General Manager Jeff Babione told reporters on Mar. 5 that those half of those defects are related to stealth.

“That’s something that no other weapon system since the F-22 has had to do, and the F-22 never did it at the rates that we’re trying to do it. Once we get a handle on that, you’re going to see a dramatic reduction in the quality escapes that are made around the LO [low observability] system,” Babione was quoted as saying.

As reported by Defense News, in order to reduce the F-35’s signature, the panels making up its airframe must be precisely aligned. As each panel goes through the production process — build, then installation, then joining to other panels — small deviations can make it very difficult to meet standards, even for an experienced mechanic.

“It’s not a human problem; that’s just the result of our ability. We’re approaching the limits of our ability to build some of these things from precise-enough technology,” Babione pointed out.

However as he explains some human error remains. “On the other hand, we inadvertently scratch the coating system, and we have to repaint it. Or when the mechanics spray the airplane [with LO coating], not all of it is robotically sprayed. There’s some overspray, and they have to go clean that.”

F-35A print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.  F-35A Lighning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

Babione called decreasing the number of manufacturing defects on the F-35 a “huge, huge priority,” and for good reason, since this kind of issues have the potential to set back the number of planned aircraft deliveries.

He said Lockheed Martin is taking a two-pronged approach to cutting down on defects. “Quality starts at the very lowest supplier and what are we doing is to ensure that quality is coming up to the supply chain as good as it can get,” he said. That means blocking faulty parts from ever getting to Lockheed’s production line in Fort Worth to “stop the quality issues from coming up in the first place.”

Furthermore to reduce the number of LO-related quality issues, the company will make it easier for workers to build the aircraft.

According Defense News, for the F-35 Joint Program Office, reducing the rework on the aircraft will help it close in on the “true cost” of the aircraft, allowing the government to push Lockheed’s price per aircraft as low as possible, Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the head of the government’s F-35 Joint Program Office, said last week at a roundtable with reporters.

It’s also seen as critical for keeping Lockheed’s delivery schedule as planned, with no future delays as production ramps up from 66 jets last year to about 90 this year and beyond, he said.

“I don’t have concerns that we’ll be able to keep having aircraft coming down the line and putting them together and delivering them. We’ll be able to do that,” he said. “But I have concerns that we might not be able to do it at the rate that our war fighter has asked us to do it.”Edwards F-35 Integrated Test Force nominated for the 2017 Collier Trophy

Photo credit: Chad Bellay / Lockheed Martin

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com