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The X-35A, built to validate propulsion and flying qualities for the Joint Strike Fighter, takes flight in October 2000. (Lockheed Martin)

Weight Watchers

How a team of engineers and a crash diet saved the Joint Strike Fighter.

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“Weight’s going to be a focus item for this program for the rest of its life,” notes Enewold. He adds that until flight tests are completed, he will worry that the diet has removed some of the aircraft’s “good weight”—the structure that makes the airplane durable. A former Navy pilot, Enewold knows well the punishment an aircraft suffers during carrier operations.

The future of the F-35 is clouded by political battles, international diplomacy, the availability of titanium, a test schedule that overlaps production timetables, and U.S. government worries over transfer of technology to foreigners. But with SWAT, the program has a chance to come to fruition. Without that team, the sight of an F-35B hovering over a carrier deck would have remained the creation of a company artist, relegated to a poster decorating a corporate conference room.

 

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