Building Excellence: Components of the F-35
The culmination of tens of thousands of parts working in unison, the F-35 is the apex of fighter aircraft stealth and capability.
Many people have a hand in the elaborate process of getting the individual parts—or components—onto the F-35. It all begins with procuring each piece from a vast base of more than 1400 suppliers in the U.S. and around the world.
PROCURING THE PARTS
Mark, primarily a subcontract manager for F-35 helmet components, procures parts that arrive on the F-35 assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We work with the suppliers to bring cutting edge technology to the aircraft—all the different systems on the aircraft that are fifth generation technology,” he elaborates. “We play a specific role in bringing that technology to the aircraft and making it available to the customer.”
Keeping parts consistently flowing to the production line and out to any bases that need them is no simple task. After a contract is signed for a new lot of aircraft, Material Resource Planning releases requirements into the purchasing system that initiate the procurement process. From there, subcontract managers like Mark collaborate with numerous internal groups and the supplier to ensure that all requirements are met to deliver quality parts on time.
“We want to ensure that we are providing the right capability to the F-35 through the components we buy,” he remarks.
Once Mark and his counterparts complete their evaluation and deem the supplier as one whose parts are of the utmost quality and reliability, technical subcontract managers check in regularly to gauge the supplier’s performance. According to Mark, this execution phase is just as important as the intricate planning that occurs beforehand.
“These technical subcontract managers play a very important role in ensuring quality as well as supporting on-time delivery of the parts,” Mark elaborates. “A major portion of our job is ensuring that the material is available to line when it is needed—and on a sustainment front, to the bases to ensure the aircraft are mission capable.”
PROCURING THE PARTS
To ensure top quality and consistency in the parts, engineers travel on-site to the supplier and perform a highly technical analysis of the facilities.
Program Management Subcontract Director for F-35 Global Partners Tony Scarazzo explains that the well-oiled machine of F-35 supply chain was “developed utilizing lessons learned from predecessor programs like the F-16 and F-22.”
“Existing processes, procedures, methods for contracting were enhanced to ensure increased alignment across the supply base to achieve program objectives,” he says.
Mark reveals that the supply chain team is also harnessing innovation within Lockheed Martin to make the entire supply chain process more efficient and cost-effective. For example, in addition to automated part movement tracking, there is an increased emphasis on “supplier network collaboration.”
“This method helps save us by reducing time delays, since we’ll have automatic purchase orders kicking out to suppliers when we get low,” he says..
Mark sums it up nicely in stating that, “When those parts get here and you see that jet keep rolling down the line, that’s the most rewarding part of it.”
BUILDING THE COMPONENTS
The components that Mark and other subcontract managers purchase arrive at F-35 factories every day. When they do, folks like Celestino have the intricate task of putting them together. Celestino, who has worked at Lockheed Martin doing assembly and repair work on aircraft components for more than 37 years, certainly knows the importance of a single aircraft piece.
“Any part that I work on for the F-35 means a lot to me, because we started from the beginning with the prototype work, and our group has been with the F-35 ever since,” he reflects.
Last year, he went above and beyond in his work on the F-35 landing gear doors, which earned him an Aero Star Award – the highest honor provided to employees by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics leadership. Currently, he is the sole employee putting together the F-35 instrumentation panel, which houses the iPad-like screens from which pilots draw virtually all of their aircraft and mission data. Eventually, the helmet components that Mark secures in supply chain interact with the pilot’s screen, housed in the instrumentation panel built by Celestino.
Talk about full circle!
BUILDING THE COMPONENTS
Celestino, along with the majority of the members on his assembly team, even drilled the first F-35 wing skins that were made in Fort Worth about seven years ago.
In addition to his constant drive to build components in a safer, more cost-effective and efficient manner—perhaps what is most impressive about Celestino’s career is that he has personally lived through four decades worth of innovation in aviation assembly.
“When I first started, we didn’t even have computers!” he reveals with a laugh.
In addition to the introduction of precision instruments like lasers and methods of assembling components that require less manual strength, Celestino cites the introduction of composite material as one of the biggest changes he has seen.
“It is definitely easier working with the tools and composite materials we use nowadays,” he offers. In comparison to nearly every preceding aircraft, the F-35 is built from mostly composite, as opposed to metal.
“You don’t use the same kind of cutters or drill bits on composite material, and special tips are needed when we drill into it,” he explains. “It is much lighter and easier to work with, which also makes it safer.”
“Just to see all of that precision technology used in the building of this airplane is really incredible,” he concludes. “There’s certainly a joy and a pride in my work that I can feel every day.”