Within the F-35 factory, where stealth begins

Lockheed Martin F-117 Night Hawk
(Lockheed Martin)

Filled with stacks of hull panels, engine components and a wide range of tubes, electronics and avionics, the vast F-35 construction facility in Ft. Worth, Texas, looks like a small town filled with engineers, mechanics, electricians and aircraft in various stages of construction.

While some stations are suspended vertical airplane wings, rudders, piping and complex collections of wires through the hull, others contain little more than an assortment of seemingly separate small parts. Further along the mile-long building strip, heavily traded by employees, contractors, and engineers, there are bays with a nearly completed F-35 with a light-green exterior. This “ready” F-35s, roll in a separate environment-controlled hanger where they wait on a final layer of blended gray paint, making the unit the color.

After watching a certain amount of different aircraft structures and configurations, to include the piping, the components of the computer and of the larger components, such as wings, tail, rudders, engines, or a mounted 25mm cannon and an observer can begin to distinguish the differences between the variants. The F-35C is the largest, with a bigger wingspan and the tail for carrier landing; the F-35A is equipped with a visible fuselage/wing mounted 25mm cannon is buried under a creeping, rounded exterior of the mixing of the weapon in the body of the aircraft; the F-35B, developers say, the most expensive and technically complicated of the group.


During the construction of an F-35B, a visible “LiftFan” is developed in the front part of the center fuselage just behind the pilot to turn huge downward vertical movement. Horsepower is sent to the LiftFan of the main motor by means of a “spiral bi-level gear system,” Rollys Royce information states.

These pk ‘ s, combined with the LiftFan, to generate the downward thrust required to get the “hover” ability, and vertical landing. An F-35B, has what looks like a square door or opening on the top of the fuselage behind the pilot and above the lift fan to maximize downward air flow. Engineers explain that the massive amount of thrust, enough to propel the aircraft to speeds beyond the sound barrier, the results of a four fold process. Air ducts on either side of the nose “suck” in the air to the engine, the air is compressed before being ignited with gas — generating what looks like a controlled explosion of fire from the back. The force generated by means of this process, the speed, agility and acceleration of the aircraft.

Mechanical data supplied by F-35B engine maker Rolls Royce states, “To achieve STOVL, the lift fan part of the LiftSystem is working perpendicular to the flow of the air over the plane.” The LiftFan can operate in crosswinds of up to 288mph, Rolls Royce data.

F-35 Stealth Technique

Stealth or Low Observability activities hinges entirely on a specific set of specialized techniques for construction, according to engineers familiar with the process. While many, if not most of these techniques are, understandably, not available to the public reports is for security reasons, there are many common elements of the technology written about for public consumption by engineers and many of the industry developers involved in F-35 construction offer detailed profiles of their contributions to the aeroplane.

A peak in a Lockheed-Martin factory.

A seamless-looking exterior — devoid or sharp contours, external structures and excellent “edges” is more recognizable is for the enemy radar — contains a secret blend of composite materials that are designed to engineer a radar-absorbing aircraft. Weapons can be carried internally so as not to expose forms vulnerable to enemy radar. An often-discussed element of stealth coating includes the use of “carbon fiber” to – among other things – reflect the electromagnetic energy from the surface of the material.

Carbon materials are long-known to have contributed to the stealth configurations. It is interesting that a 2016 essay from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum cites 2008 expert assessment in which Northrop Grumman engineers sought to determine if a 1943-built German Horten 229 prototype aircraft elements of stealth technology decades ahead of its time. The Nazi aircraft was experiencing technical problems and is not have managed to get a few test flights. It never saw combat, but some of the glue, wood and other materials in combination with the horizontal “all-wing” like configuration, have inspired many people to the aircraft as an early version of what became the stealth-technology. Carbon-like materials were found in the research; the engineers, Dobrenz and Spadoni writing “during our inspection of the Horten 229 in the Smithsonian museum, it was found that a material similar to carbon black or charcoal was mixed with the adhesive between the thin layers of the leading edge shape.”

Whatever the specific composition of the material, the creeping exterior of the F-35 represents an attempt to achieve low-observability, survivability and lighter weight to enable speed and agility. The seamless F-35 structure is, by design, a result of a particular technique.


“Every hinge, every bolt, every fastener and every panel is closed back up when we’re done with the work on the plane, so every time we take off we are in that stealth, undetectable configuration,” Billie Flynn, F-35 Pilot, Lockheed Martin, told the Warrior Maven in an interview.

Electronic pings generated by the enemy radar, the specific structures by which to bounce – sending of a return signal. If the trunk is configured such that it is not in the structures and the edges at which an electromagnetic ping can collide, shapes and contours define an aircraft are more difficult to detect. In essence, the blinds or remove the return signal, and radar is not able to produce a “rendering” of the jet fighter. If an electronic signal, radar emissions travel at the speed of light – a well-known entity. If the speed of light, that is fixed, is known and the amount of travel time is also able to be determined, algorithms can calculate the exact distance, shape, and even the speed of an object.

“We hide the radar, antenna, and fuel-they are all excellent parts, which reduce hope that you would ever reduce vulnerability,” Flynn said.

Flynn explained that the stealth technology to contribute to the F-35 has a number of origins as far back as the Gulf War-era F-117 NightHawk. “With the F-117, we learned how to embed the antennas in the leading edge of the plane. This concept went right in the F-22,” Flynn added.

Flynn also explained that each F-35 sensor is “built-in” or built into the skin of the aircraft, so the aircraft are less detectable to enemy radar.

Reduce the heat emission, or thermal signature, it is also known to be of vital importance for the preservation of stealth. There are a variety of ways in which this can be achieved, such as the burial of the engines in a plane to reduce the heat. The F-35 is built with the small coolant pipes run under the wings or in the fuselage of the aircraft, designed for the removal of the heat generated by the aircraft electronic and electrical systems. This prevents overheating and controls general plane temperatures. The control of the temperature also enhances the stealth properties of the aircraft. Fuel travels through pipes under the plane also brings a cooling effect, engineers say.


“We can take full advantage of our stealth signature to penetrate enemy defenses, while a 4th Gen fighter will have to work outside of those areas. We are going to sit inside and fill that close-air-support role,” Flynn said. “We can remain outside of small arms fire, because the sensor suite.”

Overall, Lockheed has delivered more than 360 airframes up to and including 16 bases worldwide, and plans for a production rev up to meet the growing international and U.S. military demand, Edward “Stevie” Smith, Lockheed, Domestic Director of Development for the F-35, told the Warrior Maven in an interview.

Smith explained that all eight of the original partners, and new ones such as Japan, South Korea, Belgium and Israel, are promoting the plans to develop and produce the aircraft.

“We are on the goal now for the A-models will be at or less than 80 million per copy,” Smith said.

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