A C-5 Super Galaxy with the tail number 70035 is the latest recipient of hardware produced by the next generation of manufacturing technologies, known as 3D printing or additive manufacturing.
After several weeks of printing, inspections, and component testing, the Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office recently installed 17 parts in both polymer and metal on the aircraft in less than three days.
“It is innovative ideas such as these that continue to drive down sustainment costs, leading to improved weapon system readiness,” said Eddie Preston, a senior materials engineer for the RSO. “If you can imagine sitting on a commercial aircraft, everything around you including parts of the seat you are sitting in, we can print.”
Working with innovative engineers at the C-5 Program Office, Air Mobility Command, and the 436th Airlift Wing which operates the aircraft, the RSO installed a variety of parts in the cabin and crew bunk areas of the plane, including overhead panels, reading and emergency light covers, window reveals and gasper panels.
New aluminum seal retention handles, redesigned by leveraging the benefits of additive manufacturing were also installed.
Engineers redesigned the handles to be more ergonomically friendly, lighter weight, and more robust to installation variation. They were able to reduce build time and eliminate the two tone, multi-coat paint scheme that has been used since the inception of the aircraft, continuing to drive cost down.
With average print times of 24-48 hours plus paint application, keeping an eye on cost and reducing cycle times was critical.
RSO engineers collaborated with the polymer raw material vendor to release “gunship grey” material, allowing parts to be printed in the color required for the interior cabin, eliminating the need for painting prior to installation.
Preston added that many of the parts that were replaced were not available for purchase or had long lead times. He said that using additive manufacturing may only take a couple of days to print parts versus the weeks, months or even years it takes to acquire parts through traditional measures.
In the near future, the C-5 Program Office and RSO teams will install more than 20 more additional polymer and metal printed components on the aircraft, made from titanium and other high strength alloys, driving this technology to the next level.
As the Air Force’s additive manufacturing library of parts continues to grow, the cost benefits of additive manufacturing production will increase.
The RSO estimates that future field production of these 17 parts alone, could save tens of thousands of dollars, while improving part performance and continuing to improve weapon system readiness.