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Posted: 12/30/2003 5:33:52 AM EDT
Posted on Thu, Dec. 25, 2003  

Lockheed cranks out new types of F-16s
By Bob Cox
Star-Telegram Staff Writer


FORT WORTH - It's been deadline time all month at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and, for at least a few of the company's employees, there is no holiday break.

For the second time in less than three weeks, Lockheed test pilots flew a new version of the venerable F-16 fighter jet for the first time Tuesday.

A. Conformal Fuel Tanks
B. 600-gallon wing tanks
C. Landing gear
D. Radar
E. Targeting System
F. Navigation and Reconnaissance Pods
G. Cockpit
H. Dorsal Avionics Compartment
I. Engines

The two-seat F-16I model developed for Israel flew for 55 minutes as the test pilots checked out the aircraft's flight controls, engines and basic avionics systems.

On Dec. 6, test pilots made the first flight of another, much different version of the F-16, the Block 60 or F-16 E/F model developed for the United Arab Emirates.

"It took a major concerted effort by our F-16 development and production teams to meet the goal of achieving first flights with these new aircraft versions in the fourth quarter," said Lockheed spokesman Joe Stout.

After several years of low-level production of the Fort Worth plant's bread-and-butter F-16 fighter, Lockheed boosted production this year.

Some workers will be on the job right up until Dec. 31, finishing the final details on new F-16s for delivery. Stout said Lockheed expects to deliver between 50 and 55 planes from Fort Worth this year, compared with just 21 planes in 2002. South Korea, which builds a version of the F-16 in partnership with Lockheed, will produce about 10 planes this year.

The challenge for Lockheed management has been coordinating engineering and production work on three significantly different versions of the F-16. The company expects to deliver 70 to 75 F-16s next year.

At the same time, the Fort Worth plant has been ramping up production of components for the F/A-22 Raptor and designing the F-35.

Israel, with 102 planes on order, and the United Arab Emirates, with 80, make up the bulk of Lockheed's 300-plane F-16 backlog. A 48-plane order by Poland, completed in April, will keep the production line humming through at last 2008.

The Israeli and UAE versions of the F-16 are significant upgrades over the most recent models sold to the U.S. Air Force.

The F-16I, nicknamed "Soufa," or "Storm" in Hebrew, was designed for the Israeli Air Force. It features "smart weapons" compatibility and much-improved electronics systems, radar and engines.

Underneath the familiar silhouette, the emirates' version has even-more-advanced electronic warfare systems, new radar and infrared targeting systems provided by Northrop Grumman.

Employment at the Fort Worth plant is about 16,800. Stout said total employment is unlikely to change much next year.
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