How a team of engineers and a crash diet saved the Joint Strike Fighter.
- By Joe Pappalardo
- Air & Space magazine, November 2006
(Page 8 of 8)
In October 2004, the Defense Acquisition Board signed off on more than 500 recommendations, officially making the STOVL weight loss attack team a success.
In eight months, the Lockheed engineers cut a total of 2,700 pounds from the F-35B. The effort also trimmed 1,300 pounds from the other variants. Comfortable with that legacy, SWAT faded, with accolades, into company history, but an estimated 20 ideas a week still turn up in the Weight Improvement Program office.
Design and assembly changes, mostly related to the SWAT recommendations, have cost about $4.8 billion—part of a $6.2 billion replanning to accommodate the additional design cycle required to make the improvements. The replanning forced an 18-month slip in F-35 deliveries. According to a 2006 Government Accountability Office report, since inception, the development costs of the JSF program have increased 84 percent and its timeline slipped by about five years. The STOVL’s final delivery deadline has been extended two years, to 2012.
When AA-1, the first CTOL F-35, rolled out of the assembly building on a gray, misty morning last February, it featured none of the SWAT-era optimizations. The weight of this F-35A is greater than what was originally projected, but not so high that the aircraft does not meet key performance parameters, Lockheed officials say. The margins would be very tight—they are not wide, even with the redesign—but it would have made it. Every F-35A that follows will be lighter.
“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.