“This room is the most advanced painting facility in the world,” retired U.S. Air Force pilot and F-35 simulation instructor Rick Royer told me as we toured Lockheed Martin’s highly secure plane facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Aircraft Final Finishes bay is where America’s most expensive weapons system gets coated with a highly classified stealth technology, which makes it invisible to radar.
After the jet is assembled and before it can take flight, three laser-guided robots apply the Radar-Absorbing Material (RAM) to each of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II variant aircraft.
Here’s all we know — and can share — about how the F-35 gets its invisibility cloak:
First, each F-35 variant is assembled in Lockheed Martin’s mile-long production facility.
Once an F-35 is ready to leave the production line, it is carefully rolled …
… into the windowless, multistory, 226,000-square-foot Aircraft Final Finishes (AFF) complex.
The jet is placed in one of two paint bays, where three laser-guided robots are programmed to spray RAM on all surfaces except the tails and various parts that are coated at a separate area called the Robotic Component Finishing System.
According to an SAE International report, the first coating process was completed on an F-35B in 2008 and took three days.
Lockheed Martin’s AFF facility services seven planes a month and is expected to increase to 17 jets by 2020.