PALMDALE, Calif., April 1, 2008 (PRIME NEWSWIRE) -- Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has begun assembling the center fuselage for the first production Lightning II jet, a weight-optimized, U.S. Air Force F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant designated AF-6. The center fuselage is the core structure around which the F-35 aircraft is built.

The assembly process began March 24 at the company's Palmdale Manufacturing Center with the loading of an all-composite air inlet duct into a special tooling structure called a jig. This first assembly process, one of approximately 18 major steps in assembling an F-35 center fuselage, consists of attaching metal frames around the duct. The frames serve to brace and position the duct properly within the center fuselage.

"Jig loading the AF-6 center fuselage is significant because it shows the F-35 program is successfully transitioning from the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase into the production phase," said Janis Pamiljans, vice president and F-35 program manager for Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems sector. "Through a disciplined approach to managing costs and engineering changes, we've reduced our average center fuselage assembly time by approximately 28 percent since the SDD program began."

To illustrate his point, Pamiljans noted that the company had started assembling the AF-6 center fuselage approximately one week sooner than the date indicated by the F-35 program's master schedule.

Northrop Grumman is a principal partner and founding member of the F-35 industry team led by Lockheed Martin. To date, the company has delivered eight of 19 SDD center fuselages - three for the Air Force and five for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps - with the remaining 11 currently in the assembly flow in Palmdale. The company has also begun work on three LRIP jets, including AF-6.

Final assembly of all F-35 jets is performed by Lockheed Martin at a facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The process includes mating a Northrop Grumman-built center fuselage to an aft fuselage produced by BAE Systems, and the forward fuselage/cockpit and wings produced by Lockheed Martin.

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, short take-off/vertical landing (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's roles on the F-35 team include producing the aircraft's center fuselage, key radar and electro-optical subsystems, and its communication, navigation and identification avionics. The company also provides mission systems and mission-planning software; and develops pilot and maintenance training systems.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a $32 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 
          Cell: (310) 864-3785