Navy Runs out of an Airplane Part, Then 3D Prints a Replacement

The T-44 Pegasus serves as a training aircraft for the US Navy, and when a spare part for the plane had been discontinued recently, there was a problem.

No more air duct tubing replacements meant the trainers and trainees wouldn’t have the proper circulation of air in the cockpit, and Naval engineers went looking for a solution.

They found one with a 3d printer housed within the Fleet Readiness Center in Jacksonville.

“The original piece was made out of two pieces of clear plastic tubing that had a flange all the way down its length,” Randy Meeker, a mechanical engineer explained, just before noting that 3d printing the replacement part helped his team create a new efficiency which they can use in the future. “I redesigned it to work better than the plastic model. It didn’t need to be two pieces when I could print it as one piece.”

Randy Meeker with 3d printed part.

Meeker served for years as part of a pit crew for a racing team, where 3d printing parts for the cars is second nature. He has brought that expertise to the Naval Air Station in Florida.

“There is a lot of responsibility on the engineer for these parts that are actually used in aircraft,” Meeker said. “It’s a whole new world of technology, and it’s their responsibility to make sure it can be used safely.

It’s worth noting this project to 3d print tubing was chosen in part because the part is not flight-critical, which meant less testing than if it were.

“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,” Naval Aerospace Engineer Matthew Hawn said. “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.”

Every branch of the US Armed Forces is experimenting with ways to incorporate additive manufacturing technology — otherwise known as 3d printing — into their preparations.

“This is an awesome milestone for our facility,” said Commanding Officer Capt. Chuck Stuart. “It shows the innovative approaches our artisans and engineers incorporate to help support the U.S. military every day.”

Navy Runs out of an Airplane Part, Then 3D Prints a Replacement was originally published in 3dprintingtech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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