Popular Mechanics reports on the extended role 3D printing is taking when it comes to the maintenance of F-22 Stealth Fighter jets. This work is being done at the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
“The U.S. Air Force has printed and installed a new titanium replacement piece for the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter…the piece in question is a fairly minor part – a bracket installed in a kick panel in the aircraft’s cockpit. Originally made from aluminum, the parts are replaced 80 percent of the time during Raptor maintenance. This new part is made from titanium powder and uses a laser-based powder bed fusion process.”
The benefits of a titanium piece is it won’t erode as aluminum pieces would. Aircraft maintenance can be slow and almost impossible to find spare parts for planes no longer in production, like the F-22. “But 3D printing allows the Air Force to quickly manufacture whatever parts it needs. The Air Force says if this bracket works out, future orders for the part could be filled in just three days…in addition to the bracket, there are five other parts waiting to go into 3D printing production for the F-22.”
The approval process is rigorous. As a Lockheed Martin Manager involved in the project describes: “we had to go to engineering, get the prints modified, we had to go through stress testing to make sure the part could withstand the loads it would be experiencing – which isn’t that much, which is why we chose a secondary part.”
Hopefully, this process is worth the extra usability 3D printing evidently provides to aircraft like the F-22.
Image and Quotes Courtesy of Popular Mechanics