Andy Prendergast, Operations Manager Structural and Dynamic Testing, BAE Systems Air discusses the work he and his team have been doing at the F-35 Sustainment facilities at RAF Marham
If you had been stood near the banks of the River Humber on the east coast of the United Kingdom last weekend, you would have seen a giant crane lifting an unusual looking object on to the back of a barge.
Inside this carefully-wrapped package was an airframe for an F-35A, the Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) variant of the F-35 Lightning, beginning its journey from our unique testing facility in Brough, Yorkshire, back to Texas, to Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the F-35 programme.
The airframe, known as AJ-1, has spent the past nine years in our 350-tonne structural testing rig which has pushed and pulled it to simulate the same stresses and strains it would undergo during flight.
Effectively, the F-35 has been 'flown' for 24,000 hours whilst being monitored by 4,000 sensors that were bonded to the aircraft to feed back data to our team of engineers.
The F-35 programme requires the service life of each airframe to be 8,000 flying hours. Completing 24,000 flying hours on the airframe gives customers of the CTOL variant confidence in the aircraft's strength and durability for decades to come.
We lead this structural testing of the CTOL variant of the F-35 with Lockheed Martin, the programme’s prime contractor, which is also responsible for testing the aircraft's other variants: the F-35B Short Take-Off; Vertical Landing (STOVL); and the F-35C Carrier Variant (CV).
Both the F-35B and F-35C airframes have completed 16,000 hour second life testing and are undergoing additional testing to maximise the life of the aircraft.
When the F-35A airframe arrives back at Lockheed Martin's facility in Fort Worth, Texas, it will undergo further testing to ensure every possible piece of information about how flight impacts the jet, is recorded.
The airframe’s departure from Brough marked the end of a chapter in a history of aircraft testing at the site which has seen aircraft including the Buccaneer, Harrier and Hawk tested there.
The Eurofighter Typhoon, the UK's current front-line combat aircraft, continues to be tested at the site, meaning this unique engineering facility can continue to provide crucial information that helps keep aircraft safe and efficient for decades to come.