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Program Reduces Maintenance Time for B-2 Bomber

Engineers solved a critical material scale-up problem that directly affected the operational maintainability, and therefore combat availability, of the U.S. Air Force's B-2 bomber fleet.

By René Boston / Air Force Research Laboratory, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio, March 30, 2006 – Engineers from the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, working with the B-2 Systems Group and material processing experts, solved a critical material scale-up problem that directly affected the operational maintainability, and therefore combat availability, of the U.S. Air Force's B-2 bomber fleet.

Through this effort, alternate high frequency material configured aircraft have shown significantly lower maintenance man-hours per flight hour and have maintained a fly rate more than double the rest of the fleet.

To improve the B-2 fleet mission capability rate, a major effort was initiated by the B-2 System Group to remove tape covering access panel gaps and fasteners and replace it with a material called alternate high frequency material.

This material exposes the gaps and fasteners for easy removal and replacement of access panels without any material restoration required.

Successful flight tests demonstrated the effectiveness of the alternate high frequency material design, but upon material scale-up for fleet-wide implementation, consistent batch-to-batch performance could not be obtained.

Consequently, the fleet-wide alternate high frequency material implementation was postponed due to the high risk associated with the material performance.

With the threat of cancellation, experts from The Air Force Research Laboratory's Manufacturing Technology Division initiated a $2.8 million alternate high frequency material rapid response process improvement program within weeks to solve the B-2 System Group's primary maintainability problem.

This team rapidly identified alternate high frequency material manufacturing problems and implemented solutions.

The successful program gave the B-2 Systems Group and Air Combat Command the confidence to implement alternate high frequency material fleet-wide, both increasing mission capability rate and decreasing maintenance man-hours per flight-hour by 50 percent.

This program resulted in a significant increase in aircraft availability and cost savings.

In addition, the alternate high frequency material rapid response process improvement program developed and validated a repeatable manufacturing process that enabled material transition to the B-2 fleet.

See Caption.
The Northrop Grumman robotic facility in Palmdale, Calif., applies alternate high frequency material on B-2 aircraft. Courtesy photo

Key factors that were inhibiting consistent batch-to-batch production were identified with solutions developed and implemented during all steps of the process.

The alternate high frequency material was re-implemented within six months of the initiation of the rapid response process improvement program and the B-2 Systems Group proceeded with fleet-wide implementation.

Small specialty material manufacturers had previously produced materials similar to the alternate high frequency material in modest quantities.

Throughout this program, the manufacturing technology team demonstrated the capability to manufacture material in large quantities (500 gallon batches) that consistently meet tight performance specifications.

This has enabled the manufacturer to reliably deliver material on-time and on-budget, reducing aircraft downtime. 

The alternate high frequency material rapid response process improvement program enhanced the fleet's high priority maintainability program and improved material delivery schedule and production cost.

The program reduced the material production schedule from 26 weeks to 12 weeks and implemented an improved test method that saves eight calendar days per batch.

The program also enhanced risk mitigation, improved material durability, reduced maintenance costs, and reduced material costs.

Maintenance actions previously requiring a week of aircraft downtime for repair now require as little as 30 minutes. The results of this program have caught the attention of other weapon system program offices.

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Jul. 31, 2014
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