Ellsworth Air Force Base maintainers will soon be making repairs
in a new facility to help extend the life of aging B-1 bombers.
The Soviet Union developed a process using "cold gas-dynamic
spray" during the Cold War to repair rotatory aircraft. The lead
engineer for the project brought the technology to the U.S., and the
Department of Defense has been advancing the process since the early
The 28th Maintenance Group started using this
technology about three years ago, in partnership with the South
Dakota School of Mines and Technology and other agencies, to
effectively repair aircraft parts and perform preventative
maintenance of the 27 B-1 bombers here.
Brain James, 28th Maintenance Group senior engineering and technical adviser, explains the cold spray process at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Jan. 25, 2016. Cold spray is a technology that accelerates small particles of the substrate [whatever the material is made out of] to achieve a mechanical bond upon impact restoring the part back to the original specs. Ellsworth Air Force Base personnel have been using this technology for more than two years, and the 28th Maintenance Group is expanding the capability by building a cold spray facility, which is slated to be fully operational in May
2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Donald Knechtel)
“Cold spray is the process in which you accelerate small
particles of the substrate [whatever the material is made
out of] to achieve a mechanical bond upon impact and, with
that bond, you're able to build up onto the substrate to
restore the original part back to the original
specifications,” said Brian James, 28th MXG senior
engineering and technical adviser.
While the Army and
Navy already had successful applications, Air Force
maintainers applied a unique approach to the "cold spray"
process that allows maintenance personnel to repair aircraft
parts which were otherwise unrepairable.
The 28th Bomb Wing has pushed
the expansion of this technology even further and is
currently developing an advanced repair facility, which is
slated to be fully-operational in May 2016 for full
integration of the "cold spray" process.
assistance of the Rapid Innovation Fund, the wing is
applying emerging B-1 applications to the standard
maintenance procedure, as part of a broad implementation of
the "cold spray" technology across all Air Force weapon
Robert Hrabe, president of VRC Metal Systems
Limited Liability Company, added this technology could save
the Air Force money in the future. For example, every
equipment bay panel repaired at Ellsworth Air Force Base by
the 28th MXG saves the Air Force an estimated $225,000.
“There would be cost savings on the order of 20-to-1
return on investment as well as improved mission capable
rates, aircraft availability and reduced maintenance
man-hours,” Hrabe said. “Cold spray would improve our
ability to maintain legacy aircraft.”
The first B-1
bomber was delivered to the base on Jan. 21, 1987. So, with
the aircraft turning 29 years old, it is increasingly
difficult to find parts because companies have discontinued
making obsolete components over the years. The "cold spray"
technology improves the maintenance group's ability to
preserve the aircraft by repairing these hard-to-find
“We need this capability and other additive
manufacturing capabilities at the field level so the 28th
MXG commander and high technicians have the ability to
repair or restore assets we currently have,” James
With the ability to restore irreplaceable
parts, aircraft will be more readily available to launch and
conduct combat airpower missions.
dramatically decrease the amount of downtime that aircraft
have to experience between our maintenance actions,” James
stated. “It will increase aircraft availability through the
repair of previously unrepairable, unobtainable aircraft
The success of this technology was not
an easy feat to reach, taking decades of research as well as
support from a few companies along the way.
for cold spray from the operational maintenance community
and, in particular the 28th BW commanders, has been really
great and key to creating an atmosphere where this type of
innovative thinking can succeed,” Hrabe commented. “Support
from the South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic
Development, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and
the South Dakota congressional delegation have been vital to
the success of this technology.”
James was thrilled
about the ability this equipment will bring not only to
Ellsworth, but the Air Force as a whole.
grassroot effort that we are doing here, but it will be
replicated throughout the U.S. Air Force,” James said.
By U.S. Air Force Airman Donald Knechtel
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