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The F-35 static test airframe arrives at BAE Systems

F-35 arrives in the UK for static testing

After a three-week ocean voyage, the first structural test airframe for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, has arrived in the United Kingdom. The F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant static test airframe (referred to as AG-1) , will undergo testing in the Structural and Dynamic Test facility at BAE Systems' site in Brough, East Yorkshire, England.

Mick Ord, BAE Systems' managing director of the F-35 Lightning II business said, "This is another major milestone in the F-35 programme and we're delighted to take delivery of the full-scale static testing airframe. BAE Systems is a principal sub-contractor to Lockheed Martin on the F-35 programme and brings military aircraft expertise that is critical to the F-35 Lightning II airframe and systems. We lead on several work share areas, of which structural testing is one."

AG-1 began its travels on March 27 at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth, Texas, plant. It was shipped overland to the Texas coast, where it was placed aboard a U.K-bound cargo ship. AG-1 is one of six static test airframes constructed for the System Development and Demonstration phase of the F-35 Lightning II programme, which is developing and validating all of the aircraft's systems and manufacturing techniques. Another 13 F-35s are dedicated to flight testing.

"The work BAE Systems is performing on AG-1 highlights just one of the United Kingdom's many indigenous industrial capabilities that this programme relies upon," said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager of F-35 Programme Integration. "We are conducting the largest-ever test programme for a fighter, and the BAE Systems structural test facilities expand our bandwidth and help us maintain our schedule."

Mick Ord added, "BAE Systems is responsible for carrying out a large percentage of the structural and fatigue testing required to qualify all three of the F-35 variants. Some testing has been carried out on smaller components, but this will be among the first of the full airframe tests to be carried out."

The Structural and Dynamic Test Facility at Brough is BAE Systems' centre of excellence for structural testing, responsible for providing evidence that airframes meet the design requirements for structural strength and durability.

The F-35 airframe will be connected to a highly complex test rig in which 165 hydraulic actuators will replicate the loads the aircraft would see in flight. The data from the test will be captured by 4,000 sensors bonded to the airframe.

The test rig itself weighs around 365 tons and has approximately 53 miles (85km) of wiring spread around it to connect all the systems and sensors. The computing power available to control the load applications is roughly the equivalent of 25 high-specification personal computers.

Testing is planned to begin in late July and will take about 15 months, certifying the strength of the airframe and its components and contributing to the aircraft's flight envelope expansion requirements. Upon completion of its static testing programme, AG-1 will be shipped back to the U.S.

The F-35 is being built in three variants: conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL), short takeoff/ vertical landing (STOVL) and carrier variant (CV). CTOL and CV durability airframe tests will also be undertaken at BAE Systems Brough site. Static testing of other F-35 airframes is under way at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth facility.

In March, the U.K. Ministry of Defence announced it intends to order three instrumented STOVL F-35 Lightning II test aircraft and associated support equipment for Operational Test and Evaluation purposes. 

Press release issued by BAE Systems plc on April 27, 2009


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