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.”
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.”
Photo credit: Chad Bellay / Lockheed Martin
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com