“Through the scanning process, we will discover all the places that saw structural failure or damage. It will create a living medical record for the B-1,” Lay said. “Then we will be able to apply data from aircraft in the field to help us predict areas that are more likely to have structural issues. This living virtual model of the B-1′s structure will be superimposed with layers of maintenance data, test/inspection results, and analysis tools, which can be integrated over the aircraft’s life cycle.”
While it will take six years to disassemble and scan every part of the plan, the work the program office and NIAR team have done since the effort started in April, is already helping the active B-1 fleet.
“We have been scanning the wings, and the wing scans have been helping us understand how to build new repairs for some of the cracks that we have seen in the wings themselves,” Lay said. “We are also currently developing inspection techniques and repairs for areas on the upper fuselage and sharing that data back with the OEM. We will use this data to better understand why we have seen fatigue damage in those areas.”
The combined work of the program office and NIAR are key to keeping the B-1 in the fight.
“Our mission is to keep the B-1 healthy and flying as long as it is required to meet Air Force operational needs,” said Bill Barnes, B-1 Senior Program Manager. “The B-1 has been flown hard operationally to support worldwide efforts for almost two decades now and it’s showing its age in the structures areas. So, keeping the aircraft structurally sound is a key tenant in keeping the aircraft available as long as required. The digital twin supports that effort so that we can move from being reactive when we find a structural issue on the fleet to being proactive and knowing what’s coming.”
While the B-1 is the first military aircraft to start the process of being completely disassembled, scanned and digitally recreated, it certainly will not be the last.
“This [digital twin] is a revolutionary game changer for the B-1 Program Office and the Department of Defense as a whole,” said Lay. “As technology shows us new capabilities, the military needs to be quicker to adopt these capabilities and practices, because this will really support the B-1 and help us get to 2040.”
The B-1 Program Office is a division of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Bombers Directorate, which is responsible for the sustainment and modernization of the U.S. Air Force’s bomber fleet, which includes the B-1, B-2 and B-52.