Key point: Lockheed has delivered more than 360 airframes to 16 bases worldwide and plans a production rev up to meet growing international and US military demand
(Ft. Worth, Texas) -- Filled with stacks of fuselage panels, engine components and a wide assortment of pipes, electronics and avionics, the spralling F-35 construction facility in Ft. Worth, Texas, resembles a small city filled with engineers, mechanics, electricians and airplanes at various stages of construction.
While some stations include vertically-hanging airplane wings, rudders, pipes and intricate collections of wires running through the fuselage, others contain little more than an assortment of seemingly disconnected small parts. Farther along the mile-long construction strip, heavily trafficked by workers, builders and engineers, there are bays with nearly completed F-35 with a light-green exterior. These “about to be finished” F-35s, roll into a separate environmentally-controlled hanger where they await a final coat of blended gray paint - giving the aircraft its color.
After watching a certain amount of varying airplane structures and configurations, to include pipes, computer parts and larger components such as wings, tails, rudders, engines or a mounted 25mm cannon - an observer can begin to discern the differences between the variants. The F-35C is the largest, built with a larger wingspan and tail for carrier landings; the F-35A includes a visible fuselage/wing-mounted 25mm cannon buried beneath a stealthy, rounded exterior blending the weapon into the body of the plane; the F-35B is, developers say, the most expensive and technically complicated of the group.
During construction of an F-35B, a visible “LiftFan” is engineered into a forward part of the center fuselage just behind the pilot to enable massive downward vertical thrust. Horsepower is sent to the LiftFan from the main engine through a “spiral belevel gear system,” Rolls Royce information states.