By Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags
Commander, Naval Air Systems Command
On July 29, an MV-22B Osprey completed a successful test flight while outfitted with a flight-critical aircraft component built using additive manufacturing or 3-D printing. The successful use of this technology in a test flight is a first for Naval Air Systems Command and a significant game-changing milestone for naval aviation.
3-D printing works by using digital design data to build components in layers of metal, plastic and other materials. The component used in the V-22 test event – a titanium, 3-D printed link and fitting assembly for the engine nacelle – was printed at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, New Jersey. This link and fitting assembly is one of four that secure a V-22’s engine nacelles to the primary wing structure and will remain on the aircraft for continued evaluation.
Additive manufacturing technology has the potential to revolutionize naval aviation by putting the ability to build parts into the hands of maintainers and operators in the fleet. The test flight marks a great step forward as we work toward a future where all parts can be made on-demand around the globe and where industry partners can stock digital data instead of ordering, stocking and shipping parts.
Think about what this could mean for our warfighters. Rather than having to order a part and wait for it to arrive, a maintainer serving overseas could just print out a required part when it is needed. This not only reduces the supply chain timeline but also reduces the need to store and transport parts – resulting in increased warfighting readiness at the best possible cost.
As we look ahead, the Naval Air Systems Command Additive Manufacturing Integrated Product Team will continue to work with the V-22 to go from the first flight demonstration to a formal configuration change to use the 3-D printed parts on any V-22 aircraft. The team has identified six safety-critical parts, including the V-22 link and fitting assembly, that they plan to build and test over the next year for three U.S. Marine Corps rotorcraft platforms — the V-22, H-1 and CH-53K.
Our additive manufacturing team has done 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.
It is absolutely critical that we understand what it takes to successfully manufacture and qualify additive manufacturing parts for use in deployed aircraft flying in theater. Together with industry, we will continue to work toward getting 3-D printing capability into the hands of our warfighters – giving them the ability to print required parts where they need them, when they need them.