Pratt & Whitney has contracted Rolls-Royce to produce and support LiftSystem technology for the F-35B Lightning II aircraft. The three contracts awarded to Rolls-Royce are worth USD$442 million. The contracts cover initial production of 17 LiftSystems for F-35B fighters. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is estimated to cost over USD$1 trillion and will be the most expensive defense project including development, support, and expenses over its 55-year lifetime.
The Rolls-Royce LiftSystem is the only in-production vertical lift system for fighter jets in the world. It is so advanced that it was a finalist for the MacRobert Award in the UK which recognizes outstanding innovation in engineering. The award is given by the Royal Academy of Engineering. The system is comprised of a LiftFan, 3-Bearing Swivel Module and a roll post under each wing. There is also a shaft connected to the F-35 engine. The lift fan is driven by a shaft off the main engine and forces air downwards to lift the fighter. Almost half of the downward thrust needed to hover, about 20,000 pounds of air, is produced by the two counter-rotating fans. The engine is mounted on a swivel module which rotates and directs thrust downwards. Two “roll posts” force air out through the wings to stabilize the jet while hovering. In order to switch from conventional flight mode to the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing mode the pilot simply presses a button. The STOVL technology is capable of producing 40,000 pounds of thrust.
Roughly 3,000 units of the F-35 are expected to be built. One of the customers will be the UK—versions will be provided for the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers and are expected to enter service in 2020. Since the project was first conceived, costs have ballooned. The main contractor Lockheed Martin is working hard to find ways to improve efficiency and cut cost through the life of the project. Over 150 affordability initiatives are being considered to innovate and deliver cost reductions.
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