the B-1 System Program Office (SPO)Tinker AFB, Oklahoma awarded Wichita State University a six-year, $100 million follow-up contract National Aeronautics Research Institute (NIAR) to continue the Digital Engineering (DE) transformation of B-1. the National Center for Manufacturing Science (NCMS) helped establish the strategic partnership and created a flexible contract structure that allows NIAR and the B-1 SPO to quickly align needs with critical needs.
According to B-1 SPO Material Leader for Structures, Lt. Col. Joseph Lay, “This project puts the B-1 in the same field as newly designed aircraft and enables digital modeling to predict future problem areas. This will allow SPO to proactively develop repairs, reduce parts procurement costs and timeline by removing the burden of interpreting legacy Air Force drawings, and increase the number of vendors offering parts for the B- 1 platform can produce. DE helps reduce the time it takes to develop and install repairs. We will be able to design and test repairs well in advance to virtually ensure first-time success and improve aircraft availability.”
As new Air Force systems are digitally born, the transition to DE for legacy systems is complicated by several factors including return on investment over the lifecycle of the platform, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) supplier lock-in, and understanding where to start with one intended task of this size and complexity. Proving that older aircraft can find utility, the B-1 has become a trailblazer for other older platforms to follow. By creating flexible requirements with a cost ceiling, the B-1 can only perform the tasks that bring the greatest benefit. Initially, B-1 chose to focus on structures, one of the main issues affecting fleet availability. With involvement in operations beginning in the 1990s, the B-1 quickly flew more hours than expected, hastening the need to extend the originally certified test life sooner than expected. While the SPO has made significant strides in the areas of structural durability, maintenance and reliability, DE will breathe new life into the fleet and rejuvenate the B-1 so it can fly until the future bomber force is ready. Even in such a short time, the SPO has already started to benefit from DE activities. B-1 models were supplied to aid in the design and manufacture of support devices for use in depot maintenance facilities and the first set of models are being supplied to third party suppliers to provide digital manufacturing data for complex components.
“NIAR looks forward to continuing to support the B-1 SPO’s DE transformation by reducing costs, expanding the supply base and increasing aircraft operational readiness. Over the past two years, the B-1 program team has developed intelligent methods to implement DE for maximum impact on legacy platforms. The flexibility afforded by the NCMS contract has allowed NIAR to adapt to changing priorities,” said Melinda Laubach-Hock, NIAR B-1 program director.
The B-1 SPO began its digital transformation in early 2020, creating a structural digital twin of a single wing. Since then, efforts have expanded to include the structure of the entire airframe, adoption of an integrated digital development environment including a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) tool, model-based Systems Engineering (MBSE) efforts to create SySML (System Modeling Language) representations. of various mechanical systems, engineering contract digitization, integration of systems and weapons to improve the structural digital twin, development of structural and aerodynamic prediction simulation tools, and other DE efforts.
“These programs provide students with unique educational opportunities to work alongside experienced professionals and develop a talent pipeline that will benefit the DOD, particularly in the emerging field of digital engineering,” said Dr. John Tomblin, senior vice president of industry and defense at Wichita State University.
“We are excited to continue this partnership and bring the B-1 further into the virtual world. We could not have achieved this without the great partnership and team between SPO, NIAR and NCMS,” said Lt Col Lay.