F-22 Raptor’s new titanium part

10 January 2019

Utah-based Hill Air Force Base has announced the successful installation of a 3D-printed titanium part for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet. With a maximum speed of 1,500 mph, and costing USD$412 million, manufacturer Lockheed Martin described the jet as “the world’s most dominant fighter.”

A total of 187 of the fifth-generation fighters were obtained, primarily by the U.S. Air Force, with eight more built as test jets. The total cost of the program is estimated at USD$66.7 billion, whereas flight costs/hr. are reported to be USD$68,362. These high costs have proven to be a roadblock to reactivating production of F-22s.

“One of the most difficult things to overcome in the F-22 community, because of its small fleet size, is the availability of additional parts to support the aircraft,” explained Robert Lewin, 574th AMXS director. 

A titanium bracket made using the powder bed fusion metal additive manufacturing (AM) process will replace the part that is currently aluminum. The benefits of using AM include faster procurement, lower cost and, by manufacturing the bracket in titanium, corrosion is no longer a concern. The component, being part of the kick panel assembly of the cockpit, is said to be replaced 80% of the time during maintenance.

The new part was installed on an operational F-22 Raptor by the 574th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintainers. The process involved modifying prints and going through stress tests to ensure the part could withstand the loads it would be experiencing.

The 3D-printed bracket will continue to be closely monitored. Once proven to be efficient, the replacement program will be rolled out to the wider fleet of F-22s. At least five more F-22 parts are currently under consideration for validation on the fighter jet.

Photo taken by R. Nial Bradshaw/3D Printing Industry