The company said in a statement it has started work in a factory in Manchester on the first component for a production model F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Aircraft. The company said the first metal cutting was carried out on a component for the rear fuselage of the combat fighter.
The F-35 is scheduled to become operational with the U.S. Air Force in 2010. BAE Systems signed a Low Rate Initial Production contract for just under $50 million in December for its part in the program to manufacture two conventional takeoff and landing models of the aircraft.
The metal cutting was carried out by the Hyde Co. on behalf of BAE Systems, and the component will be transported to BAE Systems' plant in Samlesbury site, also in the northern English county of Lancashire, where further work will be carried out. The completed parts will then be sent to the program integrator, Lockheed Martin, to be put together with the rest of the aircraft at a factory in Texas.
Tom Fillingham, F-35 Lightning II managing director, said: "This is a proud and important moment for BAE Systems. We are progressing well through the development stage of the F-35 Lightning II program and now, concurrently with development aircraft manufacture, we are producing the first production aircraft. This is a clear signal of how mature the product is at this early stage of its life."
Three models of the F-35 Lightning II are being produced for conventional takeoff and landing, short takeoff and vertical landing, and aircraft carrier operations.
The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has been designed as the first ever stealthy, supersonic, multi-role fighter. It is being built for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to succeed the AV-8B Harrier, A-10, F-16 and the F/A-18 Hornet and for the British armed forces to succeed the Harrier GR9 and Sea Harrier.