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Advancing aeronautics through F-35 manufacturing excellence

Northrop Grumman is one of the world’s premier aircraft providers with a proud heritage of designing and building iconic aircraft like the world’s first sixth-generation stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, the B-2 Spirit and the F-14 Tomcat. This history complements the company’s expertise as a key manufacturer of the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II center fuselages. And now, through new partnerships with international industry, Northrop Grumman is poised to continue a track record of advanced manufacturing excellence to meet the demand from allies for cutting-edge airpower capabilities.

Advancing aeronautics through F-35 manufacturing excellence
Northrop Grumman's Integrated Assembly Line produces center fuselages for F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft. (Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Advancing Military Aircraft Production

At its F-35 center fuselage Integrated Assembly Line (IAL) in Palmdale, Calif., Northrop Grumman’s deep history of aircraft design, technological prowess and innovative approaches to military aircraft production culminated in a first-of-its kind defense manufacturing facility that pairs new automated tools and robotics with a highly skilled workforce.

Northrop Grumman designed and created the IAL using innovations from the automobile industry as a guide, marking the first time automotive and aircraft technologies were integrated at such scale. The IAL is comprised of over 3,000 parts, scalable to 115 assembly positions and capable of completing one center fuselage every 30 hours. The assembly line features unique manufacturing technologies -- exclusive to or pioneered by Northrop Grumman. The IAL maximizes robotics and automation, providing additional capacity and assembly capability to achieve high rates of production, while meeting engineering tolerances not easily achieved manually.

Since coming online in March 2011, the IAL has produced over 1,100 center fuselages for all three variants of the F-35 Lightning II. In 2022, Northrop Grumman delivered the 1,000th center fuselage produced at the IAL.

Breaking Ground on a New Chapter

International demand for fifth-generation F-35 fighter aircraft has increased the need for additional fuselages. To help meet this need, Northrop Grumman partnered with Rheinmetall AG to establish a second center fuselage IAL facility in Weeze, Germany.

Advancing aeronautics through F-35 manufacturing excellence
Northrop Grumman joined Rheinmetall, Lockheed Martin and German officials for a groundbreaking ceremony in Weeze, Germany to establish a second F-35 center fuselage Integrated Assembly Line (IAL) with Rheinmetall AG. (Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman)

Following a groundbreaking ceremony last month, Rheinmetall is building the facility and Northrop Grumman will share manufacturing technologies and expertise to enable production of F-35 fuselages there by 2025. Starting in 2027, the Weeze IAL facility is expected to produce up to 30 fuselages per year. Combined, both IAL facilities will be able to produce up to 185 center fuselages yearly to meet the F-35 program's future requirements.

“The groundbreaking marks a significant new chapter in the production of a fifth-generation, multi-role fighter for the United States and its allies to protect our sovereign interests and defend freedom around the globe,” said Glenn Masukawa, vice president and F-35 program manager, Northrop Grumman. “Our collaboration with Rheinmetall exemplifies how we expand local growth and opportunities to establish a global footprint for F-35.”

The collaborative effort leverages Rheinmetall’s experience with the German Armed Forces and European industry while fostering critical skills and energizing the region’s economy with high-tech job opportunities.

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