Navy's Alpha Aircraft Uses First Flight Critical 3D Printed Part

Naval Air Systems Command successfully marked the first test flight with one of it's most advanced aircrafts last week, using a 3d printed, flight critical component.

The Navy was testing its ability to 3d print a titanium link and fitting part, which helps keep the engine attached to the primary wing structure of an MV-22B Osprey - one of the US Military's most advanced aircrafts, capable of moving high amounts of equipment and personnel with a short takeoff and landing.

"The flight went great. I never would have known that we had anything different onboard," said  Maj. Travis Stephenson who piloted the flight using the first 3d printed flight critical component.

According to the Navy, the ability to repair it's fleet with parts they can make on-demand, without losing any performance capabilities, was one of the key drivers behind this test.

"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."

Back in early July, it was reported that the Marine Corps was looking to 3d printing to come up with spare parts for some of its aircraft, because budget cuts were constraining their abilities to resupply by other means.

Vice Adm. Paul A. Grosklags, NAVAIR commander, made it clear that his team is interested in understanding how they can successfully implement 3d printed parts into their aircraft, and does not have any vested interest in trying to be seen as a leader in using 3d printing on a broader scale.

"Although the flight today is a great step forward, we are not trying to 'lead' industry in our [Additive Manufacturing] efforts, but it is absolutely critical that we understand what it takes to successfully manufacture and qualify [Additive Manufacturing] 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 [Additive Manufacturing] "digital thread," from initial design tools all the way to the flight line - securely maintained and managed through the life of an aircraft program."

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