British engineers working on combat jets for the UK’s new aircraft carriers have reached a key production milestone.
The 318th rear section for an F-35 Lightning II combat jet has rolled off the BAE Systems production line in Samlesbury, Lancashire meaning that 10% of the global requirement has now been produced.
The aft fuselage is the back part of the state-of-the-art aircraft’s main body and with more than 3,000 aircraft currently on order it is estimated that 25,000 jobs will be sustained across the UK by more than 500 companies in the supply chain when at peak production.
The rear section has now transferred from BAE Systems’ advanced manufacturing suite to Lockheed Martin’s Final Assembly and Check Out line in Fort Worth, Texas to be connected with other major assemblies to become one of three aircraft variants. The 318th aft fuselage in particular will form part of a UK ‘B’ model variant of the combat jet.
This variant has the short take-off and vertical landing capability which makes it ideal for Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers. With HMS Queen Elizabeth set to enter her new home in Portsmouth imminently, the F-35B jets are on track to make their first flight trials from her deck next year.
The F-35 programme is the world’s largest single defence programme, and as a key partner, the UK has been working closely with the US from the outset.
Minister for Defence Procurement Harriett Baldwin, said:
This is an important milestone and the latest example of how the F-35 programme is benefitting the UK’s defence industry, creating thousands of jobs and helping to keep Britain safer and more secure.
Britain is a leading partner in the development of the F-35, supporting not just the aircraft that will operate from RAF Marham and our two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, but also the thousands of jets that will serve our allies around the world.
Andrea Thompson, F-35 Lightning II Director for BAE Systems Military Air & Information, said:
Reaching the 10% mark of production on the F-35 programme shows how far we have come, but also highlights that there is an enormous amount of work still to do.
With an order book of more than 3,000 aircraft for the global F-35 fleet, the investments we are making in our advanced manufacturing facilities are key to ensuring we continue to deliver on our commitments.
To add to this, we are also working closely with our supply chain to ensure they are equipped to meet the ramp up in production at the same time as delivering against our existing commitments.
Eric Branyan, vice president of F-35 Supply Chain Management for Lockheed Martin said:
BAE Systems is a valued partner on the F-35 program, and we congratulate them on this significant milestone. The United Kingdom is the F-35 program’s only tier one partner and the work of BAE Systems and other in-country suppliers has a significant positive impact on the UK economy. We look forward to many more years of partnering to deliver the most advanced and capable 5th generation fighter jet to our allies around the world.
BAE Systems is responsible for 15% of the work on each aircraft including every aft fuselage as well as other mission critical systems for the F-35 Lightning II programme.
The first operational Lightning II squadrons will be the RAF’s 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) and 809 Naval Air Squadron. Combined with the QEC aircraft carriers they will transform the UK’s ability to project influence overseas.