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News > Logistics center, Boeing partner in fatigue testing B-1B
Logistics center, Boeing partner in fatigue testing B-1B

Posted 3/14/2011   Updated 3/14/2011 Email story   Print story


by Brandice J. O'Brien
Tinker Public Affairs

3/14/2011 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.  -- On March 4, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center and Boeing personnel signed a five-year contract that will allow the aircraft manufacturer to perform a full-scale fatigue test on the B-1B Lancer.

Following the tests, the Tinker's B-1 System Program Office will use the results to ensure the fleet can operate safely until 2040. The partners expedited the process to better support the warfighter.

Using an "Undefinitized Contract Action," Boeing began preliminary work while Tinker identified the exact cost and finished the paperwork. Through the UCA, Tinker figured out the framework and the specifics for what would be a $200-million contract and finalized it in 156 days; which officials said significantly beats the Air Force standard for UCAs of 180 days.

"This event says a lot about the acquisition team and Team Tinker's ability to execute," said Col. Mark Beierle, director of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center's Aerospace Sustainment Directorate. "Signing the UCA was a critical milestone; it allows us to conduct long-needed structural analysis and testing of the B-1."

Craig Helberg, Boeing B-1 Airframe integrated project team leader, agreed.

"Rapid definitization of this B-1 full-scale fatigue contract is a great example of the team work that occurs when the Air Force and the contractor have a clear understanding of the importance of an effort to the war-fighter," he said.

When the B-1 was introduced into service in 1986, its lifespan was designed to fly 9,681 hours. Yet, several aircraft in the fleet have well over 10,000 hours as a result of the operations tempo; and engineers have not studied what could happen to the aircraft at that point.

Additionally, the fleet's testing to this point has been less severe than the actual flying, which Justin Evans, OC-ALC B-1 Sustainment Division lead project engineer, said can lead to problems.

"When an aircraft is designed, engineers make assumptions about how it's going to be flown, what kind of loads it will carry and the amount of g-force it will pull based on what the government wants it to do," he said. "When actual use came about, engineers realized it had more capability than they thought and have flown it accordingly; so the actual use has been three to four times more severe than what was planned. Now we're in an area where we are less certain about what will happen to the aircraft, we need this data to be better prepared for the future."

Furthermore, the B-1B is scheduled to fly until 2040.

To counteract anxiety of the unknown, the Air Force proposed a full-scale fatigue test performed on the aircraft. Using information such as flight hours, loads and time taxiing, engineers will stress the aircraft at different points to determine what it can take before it breaks, said Cindy Hammack, contracting officer in the OC-ALC Combat Systems Division B-1 Contracting office.

"This will keep the B-1 safely flying to support our mission and with all the budget cuts, this will help ensure the B-1 is still a viable solution to be funded for our military," she said.

Although the contract was approved in less than 180 days, plenty of time was spent on the preliminary work. Officials spent roughly three years developing and building requirements for testing, and acquiring funding.

Toward the end of 2010, there was a significant push from Air Staff levels to get this program underway.

"Three weeks from completion, the joint IPT agreed to daily conference calls to ensure proper coordination and execution of all remaining action items," said Damien Cooper, program manager for the full scale fatigue test program in the OC-ALC/GKB.

As officials prepare to carry out the test, two details remain certain - the UCA was achieved in a respectable time and the B-1 is worth the effort, officials said.

"Team Tinker's collaboration with Boeing on this UCA represents acquisition excellence at its finest and the full-scale fatigue test is one of many significant steps that our SPO is taking to keep this aircraft delivering extraordinary capability to the forward-operating location," said Col. Charles Sherwin, Aerospace Sustainment Directorate System Program manager and chief of the B-1 Sustainment Division. "The viability of the B-1 in today's fight is of utmost importance. This is a significant milestone to ensure full-scale fatigue test is accomplished. It will ensure the longevity of the aircraft to 2040 and beyond."

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