(US Air Force photo/Michael Holzworth)

The most expensive fighter jet is currently set to fly in the future with parts made from 3D printers. Maintainers at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, installed for the first time a metallic 3D printed bracket on an operational F-22 Raptor, according to the Air Force and Lockheed Martin, the company that produces the $150 million aircraft.

If the 3D printed titanium piece is strong enough, the part will be installed on all F-22 fighter jets during maintenance, and the use of 3D parts in the aircraft could be expanded, with the eventual goal of minimizing depot time for the maintenance-prone jets, officials said.

Robert Blind, Lockheed Martin modifications manager stated

“We’re looking to go a little bit further as this part proves itself out,”

3D printing technology for use in a combat jet isn’t new among the services, there are cases where additive manufacturing has been used before. From Humvee door handles and rifle grips to gas mask modifications, additive manufacturing seems to settling up well in the industry.

The Marine Corps last April flew an F-35B Lighting II aircraft with a part from a 3D printer to replace a worn, plastic bumper on the plane’s landing gear door. The part was printed, approved and installed in a matter of days, eliminating the long wait for a replacement part from the States.

Unlike the plastic bumper manufactured for the Marines, the 3D bracket in the F-22 was made using a powder bed fusion process with a laser to build the part layer by layer from a titanium powder.

The printed bracket won’t corrode, it said. It replaced a corrosion-prone aluminum component in the kick panel assembly of the cockpit that is replaced 80 percent of the time during maintenance.

The part will be monitored while in service and will undergo through inspection when the aircraft returns to Hill Air Force Base. If validated, the part will be installed on all F-22 aircraft undergoing maintenance.

The Air Force said it has at least five more metallic 3D printed parts it plans to test on the F-22.

Robert Lewin, 574th Aircraft Maintenance director at Hill states:

“Once we get to the more complicated parts, the result could be a 60 to 70 day reduction in flow time for aircraft to be here for maintenance,” 

The Air Force did not say how much time or money 3D printing could save in F-22 maintenance. But it is stated that the technology gives the maintainers the ability to acquire replacement parts on short notice without minimum order quantities, an issue that’s particularly challenging in the F-22 community due to the small fleet size.

Maintenance problems and the small size of F-22 squadrons have contributed to low aircraft availability rates service-wide, a government report found last year.







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Original Source: https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/01/19/metallic-3d-printing-may-revolutionize-maintenance-f-22-raptor.html