B-1 flies into future

  • Published
  • By Daryl Mayer, AFLCMC Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio (AFLCMC) – The process to create a digital twin of B-1 tail #85-0092 is already showing promise to predict and control sustainment processes in a way that will keep this limited resource in the air. 
Lt. Col. Joseph Lay, B-1 Program Manager, explained on a recent episode of AFLCMC’s Leadership Log podcast how his office at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma is partnering with Wichita State University’s National Institute of Aviation Research in Kansas to bring this retired bomber into the digital age. 
“The simple answer is we needed to figure out a way to do things smarter, cheaper and better – the holy trinity for acquisitions -- that we're trying to achieve,” Lay said. 

Among the issues, repairs were taking too long, original manufacturers were out of business making parts scarce and expensive, upgrades and inspections were keeping aircraft grounded. 
“Being reactive means we wait for something to happen, and then we try to figure out what to do,” Lay said.  “We don't want to be in that position.  We want to be where we understand what's going to happen, we already have the repair on the shelf and we go out and put it on the aircraft ahead of time, so that we keep that aircraft availability very high.  Especially with a smaller fleet, that's very important.”  
Once the aircraft was pulled from the Boneyard (309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona) and trucked 1,000 miles to the WSU campus, workers began to dissemble and scan each part. 
“The mechanics are actually going out and they're taking parts off the aircraft.  Those parts are then scanned using a laser scanner that creates a 3D image of that part,” Lay said.  “Simultaneously, we have engineers that are taking the old 2D drawings and they're converting those into 3D drawings.  Then we do a side by side comparison to look for differences and that's actually one of the biggest benefits because a lot of these aircraft were kind of hand built.” 
The small variance in parts due to the unique ways they were built has always led to challenges getting parts to fit.  Another challenge is finding manufacturers willing and capable of using old 2D drawings to produce single items.  The new digital records will help solve these issues.       
To hear the full conversation, you can watch Leadership Log on YouTube at https://youtu.be/wOR-p2rqoRM.  You can also listen by searching “Leadership Log” on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, Overcast, Radio Public or Breaker.