The US Department of Defense's (DoD) first aviation maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) facility Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) has flown the first 3D-printed component on a US Navy aircraft.
FRCSE created a forearm-length piece of air duct tubing, which is used to circulate air throughout the aeroplanes cockpit. It was developed with a composite material known as Ultum 1085 and could be incorporated on an aircraft.
FRCSE commanding officer captain Chuck Stuart said: “This is an awesome milestone for our facility.
“It shows the innovative approaches our artisans and engineers incorporate to help support the US military every day.”
FRCSE’s first 3D printer became operational in June 2014, and since then artisans and engineers have been working to develop components used for support equipment and prototypes to save on building costly materials, as well as for tooling purposes.
This is the first time ever that an actual part specifically designed to be integrated into an aircraft has been developed and flown.
FRCSE Trainer Aircraft Programme aerospace engineer Matthew Hawn sought help from the manufacturing department in January, after the original manufacturer of the T-44 Pegasus exhausted its supply of a piece of air duct.
Matthew Hawn said: “We went over to manufacturing and took a look at making a vacuum form of the tube, which is how the original part was made, then Randy brought up the possibility of 3D printing the part.
“From there, the cost analysis between the two showed 3D printing was cheaper and offered a better material.”
Tooling maker at FRCSE and 3D printer operator Randy Meeker also helped to replicate the piece using the 3D printing technology, as well as improve on the design.
Image: First 3D component created for aircraft. Photo: courtesy of Navair.