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Rolls-Royce will next week deliver the first production-standard F-35B lift fan to be built at its purpose-built lift fan assembly site here.
The $13 million facility was completed in March 2010, but until now has been making components for lift fans as part of the buildup to making the first complete module. The lift fan will be the 12th production unit to be delivered overall.
The site also will supply vane boxes, which form the exit through which air from the lift fan is vectored. As these units are structural parts of the airframe, deliveries run up to 18 months ahead of the lift fan. To date, Rolls has delivered 17 production-standard vane boxes to Northrop Grumman’s fuselage assembly line in Palmdale, Calif. Lift fan modules are sent directly to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 final assembly facility in Fort Worth.
The state-of-the-art lift fan facility is sized for up to seven units per month with one shift, but can provide more in a surge situation. Rolls’ Lift Fan Program Director Gregg Pyers says the company is halfway through deliveries of lift fans ordered for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) lot 3 and has all but one vane box still to deliver under LRIP 4.
Pyers says Rolls is working to meet the cost challenge imposed on the F-35B short take-off-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) effort. These include the probation period on the Stovl jet instigated by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates as a result of test issues in 2010, as well as smaller overall production resulting from the U.K.’s switch to conventional takeoff F-35C models. “Reduction on volume creates an additional challenge and we are working to offset that,” Pyers says. “But the bottom line is you have lower economies of scale and that’s a cost to overcome. We are working very aggressively but it will be very challenging to remain cost-neutral.”
Slightly more than 400 F-35Bs are currently listed in the provisional orderbook, with around 340 earmarked for the Marine Corps and the balance for Italy. However, additional countries, including Singapore, are expressing interest in the Stovl version, which may help grow overall numbers.
Improvements to the lift system identified as among the problems that led to the probation are also being introduced. Upgrades to the clutch thermal management and driveshaft spacer redesigns will be the first items through the F-35 engineering control board, Pyers says. Evaluation of improvements to the roll posts will take place in December.