PALMDALE, CA—Northrop Grumman entered full-rate production on the F-35 Lightning II’s center fuselage in May to meet increasing order quantities from the Pentagon and international customers. According to FlightGlobal, Northrop hired 1,000 additional employees here between the beginning of 2017 and the end of the first quarter 2018 to accommodate the increased production. It also has added new sanding and painting booths.

The factory supplies fuselages for aircraft final assembly facilities in Fort Worth, Texas; Italy; and Japan. An adjacent bay in the same building once was the final assembly site of the B-2A bomber. It sat empty during a media tour of the full facility in December 2015. During the latest tour of Building 401 in mid-June, Northrop officials refused to discuss the secret location of the B-21A bomber assembly site, but the former B-2A bay was walled off and not accessible.

The manufacturer projects that it will complete 113 fuselages this year, and it aims to produce 153 fuselages in 2019. At peak production, the facility will produce a fuselage every 1.25 days. The company said the 400th centre fuselage was completed and delivered to F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin last month. Production of the 500th center fuselage began the week of June 18.
Northrop reached a production rate of a center fuselage every 1.5 days in the fourth quarter of 2017 and completed a total of 74 last year.