Navy conducts first successful flight with ‘critical’ 3-D printed part

An MV-22B Osprey equipped with a 3-D-printed part hovers during a demonstration at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., July 29, 2016.


By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 2, 2016

The Navy recently conducted its first successful flight using a “safety-critical” aircraft component built using 3-D printing technology.

An MV-22B Osprey flown out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., completed a test Friday while outfitted with a titanium, 3-D printed assembly in the compartment that houses the engine, Naval Air Systems Command said in a statement Tuesday.

“The flight went great. I never would have known that we had anything different onboard,” Maj. Travis Stephenson, the project officer who piloted the flight, said in the statement.

The 3-D printed assembly is one of four that secures an Osprey’s engine housing to the primary wing structure, the Navy said. It will remain on the aircraft for further evaluation.

The 3-D printing process creates physical objects from three-dimensional digital models, layering a plethora of thin layers of material to create the final object. Metal, plastic and other materials can be used.

The Osprey components, made of metal, were printed at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, N.J.

Multiple Osprey components were built and tested by the Lakehurst center and by Penn State Applied Research Laboratory prior to Friday’s flight.

Liz McMichael, who led the 3-D team, described the flight as “a great first step” and a “game changer” that will revolutionize how the military repairs aircraft and develops new capabilities, the statement said.

“In the last 18 months, we’ve started to crack the code on using [3-D printing] safely,” she said. “We’ll be working with V-22 to go from this first flight demonstration to a formal configuration change to use these parts on any V-22 aircraft.”

Since the early 1990s, the Navy has created prototypes using so-called “additive manufacturing,” and has recently begun using the process to print parts that were not critical to flight.

Friday’s demonstration was the first time a Navy aircraft flew with a printed part deemed “essential” for a safe flight, the Navy said.

The 3-D team has identified six additional “safety-critical” parts it plans to build and test over the next year for three Marine Corps aircraft: the V-22 along with H-1 and CH-53K helicopters, the Navy said. The parts will be made out of either titanium or stainless steel.

Vice Adm. Paul A. Grosklags, NAVAIR commander, described the test as a “great step forward,” but said the Navy expects “our industry partners” to handle the manufacturing of 3-D components.

Twitter: @WyattWOlson

A Navy aviation mechanic installs a 3-D-printed fitting on the engine housing of an MV-22B Osprey, July 28, 2016, at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.

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