Northrop Grumman is one of the world’s premier aircraft providers with a proud heritage of designing and building iconic aircraft like the world’s first sixth-generation stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, the B-2 Spirit and the F-14 Tomcat. This history complements the company’s expertise as a key manufacturer of the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II center fuselages. And now, through new partnerships with international industry, Northrop Grumman is poised to continue a track record of advanced manufacturing excellence to meet the demand from allies for cutting-edge airpower capabilities.
Advancing Military Aircraft Production
At its F-35 center fuselage Integrated Assembly Line (IAL) in Palmdale, Calif., Northrop Grumman’s deep history of aircraft design, technological prowess and innovative approaches to military aircraft production culminated in a first-of-its kind defense manufacturing facility that pairs new automated tools and robotics with a highly skilled workforce.
Northrop Grumman designed and created the IAL using innovations from the automobile industry as a guide, marking the first time automotive and aircraft technologies were integrated at such scale. The IAL is comprised of over 3,000 parts, scalable to 115 assembly positions and capable of completing one center fuselage every 30 hours. The assembly line features unique manufacturing technologies — exclusive to or pioneered by Northrop Grumman. The IAL maximizes robotics and automation, providing additional capacity and assembly capability to achieve high rates of production, while meeting engineering tolerances not easily achieved manually.
Since coming online in March 2011, the IAL has produced over 1,100 center fuselages for all three variants of the F-35 Lightning II. In 2022, Northrop Grumman delivered the 1,000th center fuselage produced at the IAL.
Breaking Ground on a New Chapter
International demand for fifth-generation F-35 fighter aircraft has increased the need for additional fuselages. To help meet this need, Northrop Grumman partnered with Rheinmetall AG to establish a second center fuselage IAL facility in Weeze, Germany.