US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) announced the successful flight demonstration of an aircraft which housed a “flight critical” component made with additive manufacturing technologies. Due to its overwhelming success, the component – a titanium, 3-D printed link and fitting assembly for the engine nacelle – is set to remain on the aircraft for further evaluation following the test flight. The link and fitting assembly are one of four parts that ensure a V-22 engine nacelle is securely attached to the aircraft’s primary wing structure.
Although the Naval Air Station where the flight took place is based in Patuxent River, Maryland, the newest components were printed at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, New Jersey. MV-22 Project Officer Maj. Travis Stephenson piloted the aircraft during the test flight, and was thoroughly impressed with printed parts’ capabilities to maintain a smooth, standard flight just as well as any other factory manufactured part. The AM Integrated Product Team lead, Liz McMichael was quoted saying the following about the future applications of additive manufacturing in the field:
“The flight today is a great first step toward using AM wherever and whenever we need to. It will revolutionize how we repair our aircraft and develop and field new capabilities – AM is a game changer. In the last 18 months, we’ve started to crack the code on using AM safely. We’ll be working with V-22 to go from this first flight demonstration to a formal configuration change to use these parts on any V-22 aircraft.”
The historic success marks the first time a U.S. Navy aircraft flew with a 3D printed part that was crucial to the safety of the flight. Only recently has additive manufacturing technology seen progress in flight applications, although it has been used in prototypes since the 1990s.
AM is taking over
Considering that the pentagon is already using additive manufacturing technology in various projects, it comes as no surprise that the Navy is eager to adopt these methods as an alternative to older, time consuming means of manufacturing. Navy officials hope to work toward a future in which “all parts can be made on-demand globally by fleet maintainers and operators, and industry partners – stocking digital data instead of ordering, stocking and shipping parts.”
In order to ensure that military organizations are taking definitive steps toward this future, the U.S. Marine Corps will also take advantage of the technology over the next year with plans to print, build and test six other flight critical parts to be made out of titanium and stainless steel.