Air Force partners with NIAR to create B-1B "digital twin"
By Daryl Mayer, AFLCMC Public Affairs
/ Published April 23, 2020
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio (AFLCMC) – A new research effort will create a virtual B-1B that could help the Air Force predict the future of these supersonic bombers.
The AFLCMC B-1 Division is sponsoring a research project with Wichita State University’s National Institute of Aviation Research (NIAR) to study the effects of flight operations on aircraft structures. The NIAR team will take the aircraft completely apart, scan every single structural part down to the nuts and bolts and then reassemble the now digitized aircraft to create a digital twin of tail #85-0092.
“We are taking a real aircraft from the Boneyard (309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona), and it will fly again in a digital format,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Lay, B-1 Program Manager.
Manufactured in 1985, tail #85-0092 last saw active service in the 2002 with the 128th Bomb Squadron at Robins AFB, Georgia before going into storage in the desert. Now after the month-long process to remove the wings, horizontal and vertical stabilizers, the 29' wide by 130' long aircraft is being loaded on flatbeds for the 1,000 mile drive from Arizona to Wichita, Kansas.
As with many aircraft in the Air Force, tail #85-0092 flew well beyond its original planned service life in terms of flight hours. That is what makes the aircraft a good candidate to study.
“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.”
Another benefit of this virtual B-1 tail #85-0092 will be for testing prototypes of new parts.
“We have never had the ability to prototype a repair part,” Lay said. “With this, we will be able to design a part and fit test it in the digital world before we manufacture the real thing. The ability to do a virtual fit check could be very beneficial.”
Overall, bringing #85-0092 back into service through the new B-1 digital inventory will offer the program office unprecedented information on the B-1B, allowing the B-1 Division to be much more predictive versus reactive with respect to structural issues.
“You would even be able to put on some goggles and take a virtual walk through the airplane, see how parts fit together and interact with each other without ever having to leave the office or your telework environment. We expect to learn a lot about this platform,” Lay said.