Missouri Students Create 3D Printed Switch Covers for $2.2 Billion Aircraft
While you may not need a degree in aerospace to come up with a great idea for fabricating a spare part for a military plane, accessibility to a 3D printer certainly helps—evidenced by recent innovation from the Stealth Panthers robotics team at Knob Noster High School near Whiteman Air Force Base. Their help was enlisted after a malfunction caused an emergency landing in Colorado Springs last October. And while no one flying or riding in the plane was injured, the B-2 bomber itself was suffering issues due to a switch that should not have been flipped, along with other ‘rare’ complications.
Realizing it was too easy for the one switch, on a panel of four, to be inadvertently turned off, the Air Force sought a solution and reached out to the student body near their base in Missouri. They were able to create a 3D printed switch cover to prevent such occurrences in the future. It was a learning lesson for everyone as the students worked with Air Force pilots and engineers to 3D print a prototype and then test it in a flight training simulator, with the new covers to be placed in the Airframe Mounted Accessory Drive near the pilot’s knee.
Not only were Air Force officials able to enjoy seeing the work of the students but they had their eyes opened to the incredible benefits of using a 3D printer to create something that may not have been possible otherwise, and especially not so quickly or so affordably at only $1.25 per cover. A good measure of success for the project is obvious too with the switch covers now being installed in every operational B-2 bomber at Whiteman, as well as the simulators like the one they used for initial testing of the part.
Having a cover on the switches offers a new and additional fail-safe as switches are only to be used for continuing to enable thrust even when circumstances may require or cause engine shutdown. And while inadvertent flipping of one switch may be unusual, it could be ‘catastrophic’ if all four were switched at once by accident, since they are responsible for the decoupling of components in the four-engine plane.
The students have now 3D printed over 30 of the covers which are formed to fit over the switches with Velcro.
The students were honored at a recent base ceremony, and the school district was also awarded a $2.25 million grant for robotics and STEM programs from the Department of Defense Education Activity. These types of projects are valuable for all involved, and we continue to follow numerous different student interactions in 3D printing from making jet engine prototypes to creating new concepts for Mars rovers to developing medical devices and so much more.
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[Source:Stars and Stripes
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February 11, 2019 at 12:51PM