Composite wing skins for JSF delivered

Composite wing skins for JSF delivered

Morrison, Gale

The primary wing structure for Boeing’s Joint Strike Fighter X32A has been delivered to the company’s Palmdale, Calif., plant, and wing assembly is underway. Boeing is delivering the highly specialized composite wing skins for the JSF X-32 concept demonstrators, denoted X-32A and X-32B, as part of its bid for a stake in what will amount to a 30-year, $300 billion procurement program, the most ambitious ever for the Department of Defense.

The JSF program is currently in a four-year demonstration stage, overseen by the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. Britain’s Royal Navy and Air Force also plan to use the 21st century fighter. The idea behind the shared program is sparing expenses and sharing new technology among the separate armed forces, which at one time each procured its own planes and then maintained and repaired them at great complexity and expense.

Boeing’s August 1996 purchase of Rockwell International’s defense and aerospace operations and its August 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas Corp. significantly broadened Boeing’s role in this program, as well as in the International Space Station program.

Although Boeing is keeping the makeup of the composite a secret for competitive reasons, the company said it is public knowledge that it’s a “composite tape layup” made at Seattle headquarters. Boeing customized automated contour-tape layup machinery that it uses on the F-22 fighter wings for the JSF task.

The upper wing skin for the X-32A was delivered in November, while the lower wing skin for the X-32A was delivered in December. Now, both the upper and lower wing skins for the X-32B are in progress with the layup equipment in Seattle. When they are complete, they too will travel by plane to Palmdale, the southern California town located near Edwards Air Force Base.

The skin measures nearly 29 feet across and weighs 742 lbs. It is part of a single-unit composite wing module that sits atop the JSF fuselage. Boeing said that a single unit simplifies assembly, reduces cost, and reduces weight by eliminating heavy side-of-body wing attachments.

In the meantime, Boeing’s rival for the JSF contract, Lockheed Martin Corp., works on its own demonstrators at its final assembly plant that is just down the road from Edwards, at the “Skunk Works” in Palmdale. Now Lockheed’s official name for the facility, it came into being from a 1960s-era nickname for the engineering compound where the company’s most secret work was done.

Boeing is also working with a different composite material and assembly process that engineers developed at Boeing’s “Phantom Works,” its answer to the Skunk Works, in St. Louis. There, Boeing is constructing composite forebody inlets for the JSF X-32A and X-32B.

GALE MORRISON

Copyright American Society of Mechanical Engineers Mar 1999

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