The F-35 Composites and the Future of Military Aviation


By Jeff Sloan, Editor in Chief, Composites World

The advantage of the F-35 is its “joint” concept, which spreads cost, manufacturing and risk among several partner countries, each of which is a program customer as well. The disadvantage — as with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner — is that too many cooks in the kitchen create complexities and multiply complications. Inevitably, there are delays and cost overruns.

Those who believe the F-35’s value is unequal to its cost and, therefore, should be cut, have to answer a big question: Then what?

At the Pentagon, U.S. air superiority is a given, not an option. The F-15, F-16 and F-18 have served the country well, but are aging. F-22 production was discontinued in favor of the F-35.

For all of its developmental warts, the F-35 is the best — and, in fact, the only — long-term option for America’s and her allies’ air-to-air and air-to-ground combat operations.

Like the 787 before it, the F-35 will have its cadre of doubters and second-guessers until the design and engineering wrinkles are worked out, the complexities are managed and aircraft enter service.

But the F-35 represents a new dimension of composites integration in a military craft, embodying a host of resin, fiber, molding and post-mold technologies that, I believe, will make this aircraft a milestone in composites design and manufacturing.

And like the 787, it will ultimately justify its developmental growing pains and send another strong signal to the rest of the world about the immense capabilities of composites, ensuring their adoption into many more vehicles and other structures — military and civilian — for many years to come.

Excerpt taken from