An F-35B Lightning II of the US Marines Corps has become the service’s first fighter jet to undergo a laser treatment that strengthens the plane without adding any additional metal or weight. This would adversely affect the jet’s performance by limiting its fuel or payload capacity.
The “laser shock peening process” uses high-energy lasers to consolidate materials on the aircraft’s bulkhead and airframe, increasing its lifespan and reducing maintenance costs.
“The laser shock peening modification is essential to extending the life of the F-35B STOVL [short take-off and vertical landing] variant, and the ability to complete this procedure successfully allows FRC East [Readiness Center East] to support this critical workload,” Commanding Officer Col. Thomas A Atkinson said in a government statement.
The procedure was conducted by the US Navy’s aviation repair and maintenance facility FRCE, which inducted the first F-35 in June 2020.
The fighter aircraft has been returned to the fleet after the verification, where it is ready for service.
Laser Peening at FCRE
Verification of the laser shock peening process ensures quality control after inspecting whether the jets meet system requirements through a combination of tests, analysis, demonstration, and testing.
The entire verification process took over 15,000 labor hours, the navy said.
The FRCE completed the construction of a laser shock peening facility in August 2019 for over $6 million. The center has become the world’s first facility capable of performing laser shock peening on an F-35. The navy plans to open a second such center in Utah.
“The big picture here is that we set up a capability that has never been stood up before,” the statement quoted Jeanie Holder, the F-35 Joint Program Office induction manager at FRCE as saying. “We made STOVL history by completing verification of the laser shock peening procedure on the first Marine Corps aircraft inducted for the modification and returned to the fleet.”
The facility has been the major site for maintenance and upgrades of the F-35B Lightning II since 2013. The conventional take-off and landing of the F-35A and the carrier operations of the F-35C have been tested in the center as well.