Navy marks first flight with 3-D printed safety-critical part installed

Posted at 10:37 AM, Aug 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-01 17:59:32-04

NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md. - The Navy has successfully flown an aircraft with a safety-critical engine part made by a 3-D printer installed onboard.

The flight demonstration was conducted on July 29, 2016 by Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland.

The MV-22B Osprey completed the test flight outfitted with a "titanium, 3-D printed link and fitting assembly for the engine nacelle."

According to the Navy, the link and fitting assembly is one of four that secures the engine nacelle to the primary wing structure.

"The flight went great. I never would have known that we had anything different onboard," MV-22 Project Officer Maj. Travis Stephenson, who piloted the flight, commented.

The additive manufacturing (AM) techniques use 3-D design data to built components in layers of various materials. For this flight, metal was used and was printed at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

"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," said Liz McMichael, AM Integrated Product Team lead. "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 flight using the MV-22B Osprey marked the first time a U.S. Navy aircraft flew with an AM part deemed critical to maintaining a safe flight. Previously non-flight critical parts and tools has been printed.

The Navy envisions a future fleet where all parts can be made on-demand instead of ordering, stocking and shipping parts.

"Our AM team has done some incredible work in a relatively short period of time - both internally through its production of aircraft components to be used in flight testing and externally through its liaison with industry and other government organizations," said Vice Adm. Paul A. Grosklags, NAVAIR commander. "Although the flight today is a great step forward, we are not trying to 'lead' industry in our AM efforts, but it is absolutely critical that we understand what it takes to successfully manufacture and qualify AM parts for flight in naval aircraft, which we expect will largely be manufactured by our industry partners. Where I believe we can 'lead' industry is in the development of the AM "digital thread," from initial design tools all the way to the flight line - securely maintained and managed through the life of an aircraft program."

Over the next year, the team plans to build and test six additional safety-critical parts to aircraft including the V-22, H-1 and CH-53K. Three of the parts will be made out of titanium while the other three will be stainless steel.