A metallic 3D-printed part has been installed on an operational F-22 Raptor during depot maintenance at Hill Air Force Base.

The printed part replaces a corrosion-prone aluminium component in the kick panel assembly of the cockpit. This part is replaced 80 per cent of the time during maintenance.

“One of the most difficult things to overcome in the F-22 community, because of the small fleet size, is the availability of additional parts to support the aircraft,” said Robert Lewin, 574th AMXS director.

He said the use of 3D printing gives maintainers the ability to acquire replacement parts on short notice without minimum order quantities.

“This not only saves taxpayer dollars, but reduces the time the aircraft is in maintenance,” a statement from Air Force Space Command said.

Stress testing

The printed bracket will not corrode and is made using a powder bed fusion process that uses a laser to build the part layer by layer from titanium powder. A new bracket can be ordered and delivered to the depot for installation as quickly as three days.

“We had to go to engineering, get the prints modified, we had to go through stress testing to make sure the part could withstand the loads it would be experiencing – which isn’t that much. That is why we chose a secondary part,” said Robert Blind, Lockheed Martin modifications manager.

The part will be monitored while in service and inspected when the aircraft returns to Hill AFB for maintenance. If validated, the part will be installed on all F-22 aircraft during maintenance.

The printed titanium bracket is the first of many metallic additive-manufactured parts planned through public-private partnerships. There are at least five more metallic 3D printed parts planned for validation on the F-22.

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

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