The first-ever continuous moving assembly line for a combat fighter jet is under consideration by the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter team. Adopting such an approach could increase production efficiency, reduce floor space and avoid an estimated $300 million in expenses over the life of the program.
‘Affordability is the cornerstone on which the JSF program is built, and we’re beginning to see how a continuous moving assembly line could help us meet our commitment to keep costs low,’ said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 JSF program general manager. ‘We are in the process of weighing the up-front investments against the long-term returns. So far, we like what we see.’
In late January, members of the F-35 production team from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and BAE SYSTEMS gathered at Lockheed Martin’s factory in Fort Worth to begin laying out a preliminary plan for a continuous moving line. Using a full-scale F-35 model, the team simulated processes for installing aircraft systems.
‘The last time this plant saw a moving assembly line, it was pumping out B-24s at tremendous rates during World War II,’ Burbage added. ‘Since then, the moving-line concept has been greatly refined, and is now used in the assembly of some large, commercial airliners. The F-35 program is all about innovation, so if ours were the first fighter jet to be built on a continuous moving line, it would simply be following an established path of product advancement.’
Current-generation fighters are constructed on a ‘pulsed’ or ‘bay-build’ assembly line. Proponents of continuous moving lines say they not only improve efficiency, but force assembly problems to the surface, where they can be identified quickly and fixed permanently. Lockheed Martin estimates that it will make up to one aircraft per day, producing 2,593 planes in total.
According to Lockheed martin, the F-35 will be a stealthy, supersonic multirole fighter designed to replace a wide range of ageing fighter and strike aircraft. Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 in conjunction with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.
Among the aircraft the F-35 will replace are the AV-8B Harrier, A-10, F-16, F/A-18 and United Kingdom’s Harrier GR.7 and Sea Harrier.