PALMDALE, Calif., Oct. 26, 2007 (PRIME NEWSWIRE) -- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) today completed the center fuselage for the first weight-optimized Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft -- a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant designated AF-1.

The milestone comes just 24 hours after the company officially began the first phase of F-35 low rate initial production by starting the fabrication of a single-piece, all-composite inlet duct for the Air Force's first production F-35. That duct is being produced at Northrop Grumman's composites manufacturing center in El Segundo, Calif.

The company celebrated the AF-1 production milestone with a ceremony at its F-35 assembly facility in Palmdale, Calif. The ceremony, which coincided with today's sixth anniversary of the awarding of the original F-35 system development and demonstration prime contract, was attended by Northrop Grumman employees and executives from Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Department of Defense's F-35 Lightning II Program Office.

"The completion of the AF-1 center fuselage on schedule and on cost reinforces Northrop Grumman's commitment to help our customers field the most reliable, versatile and affordable 5th generation fighter," said Janis Pamiljans, F-35 program manager for Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector. "Our disciplined production and assembly processes help ensure the quality and reliability of this multi-role aircraft for U.S. warfighters and our international F-35 partners."

The AF-1 center fuselage is one of 19 center fuselages Northrop Grumman is producing for the current system development and demonstration (SDD) phase of the F-35 Lightning II program. To date, the company has delivered center fuselages for six F-35 aircraft, including AA-1, the first F-35 aircraft to fly; and BF-1, the first F-35 short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variant. BF-1 will be the first F-35 to be delivered to the U.S. Marine Corps.

"Meeting these key program production commitments on time helps ensure that the F-35 Lightning II will enter the U.S. Air Force inventory as scheduled in 2013," said Major General Charles R. Davis, the Defense Department's F-35 Program Executive Officer. "The F-35 will provide the service with a powerful, multi-role fighter that will dovetail seamlessly with the versatile F-22, allowing the Air Force to continue operating effectively and decisively in high threat environments against increasingly sophisticated enemies."

The F-35 Lightning II is a stealthy, supersonic multi-role fighter designed to replace a wide range of aging fighter and strike aircraft. It is being produced in three variants -- CTOL, STOVL, and a carrier variant (CV) -- to meet the diverse performance needs of the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy and allied defense forces worldwide. The three variants use a high degree of commonality to meet strict affordability requirements.

Northrop Grumman uses disciplined design, manufacturing and assembly processes to ensure the performance and reliability of the F-35 center fuselage. The structure's all-composite inlet and aft ducts are produced in El Segundo, then mated in Palmdale with the upper and lower subassemblies of the center fuselages, which include the fuel tanks.

The aircraft's outer skins, also made from composites, are then applied and drilled using automated, high precision drilling machines. Final systems installation and testing of hydraulics, actuator doors, the power thermal management system and wire harnesses complete the center fuselage assembly process.

As a principal member of the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 global industry team, Northrop Grumman plays a critical role in the development and production of the weapons system. The company's contributions include: producing and integrating a major section of aircraft's structure; producing key radar and electro-optical subsystems; producing key avionics and communications subsystems; developing mission systems and mission-planning software; developing pilot and maintenance training systems; and developing logistic support hardware and software. The F-35 team also includes BAE Systems.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a $30 billion global defense and technology company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in information and services, electronics, aerospace and shipbuilding to government and commercial customers worldwide.

  CONTACT:  Brooks McKinney, APR
          Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems
          (310) 331-6610 
          Mobile: (310) 864-3785
          brooks.mckinney@ngc.com