Lockheed Martin Constructing Laser Ultrasonics Center at Tactical Aircraft Systems Plant
FORT WORTH, Texas, April 28th, 1998 -- Lockheed Martin is constructing a multi-million dollar center for advanced laser ultrasonic testing technology at its fighter aircraft plant in Fort Worth, Texas. The facility has been under construction since early this year and is scheduled to go on-line with initial capabilities by late fall.
The 10,000 square foot facility culminates over 15 years of research and highlights Lockheed Martin's industry leadership in testing technologies for complex-contoured aircraft parts made from graphite-epoxy composite materials. It is part of the company's internal Advanced Affordability Initiative (AAI) and will provide production capabilities expected to save several hundred million dollars over the lives of the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft programs.
The facility features a Laser UT System that incorporates technologies developed with Lockheed Martin funds and support from the Air Force Research Laboratory's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The Fort Worth plant currently uses a prototype Laser UT' system with extraordinary testing capabilities, allowing automated testing of composite parts with complex geometrical shapes.
Lockheed Martin is moving from prototype to full production phase to support advanced programs such as the Joint Strike Fighter, which will use a higher percentage of composites than previous fighters and will require an unprecedented level of testing capability due to the high performance of the aircraft and the high production rates that are planned.
Composites are composed of layers of graphite-epoxy impregnated materials that are cured under heat and pressure in an autoclave. Ultrasonic testing is required to find air pockets and other potential flaws that could lead to part failure under conditions of structural stress.
According to Ken Taylor, director of AAI, "The new technology center will provide our factory additional test capabilities and greatly increased parts throughput. For example, using current equipment, it takes about 24 hours to inspect a composite inlet duct we build for the F-22 Raptor. That time will be cut to less than two hours with the new laser ultrasonic center."
"In addition to reducing test cycle times by more than 90 percent, this cutting edge technology all but eliminates set-up, simplifies operator interface, and provides design feedback to enhance affordability," said Bob Rearden, vice president of production operations for Tactical Aircraft Systems. "These innovations will ensure Lockheed Martin remains the contractor in composite inspection technology."
Laser UT' represents the second generation of ultrasonic testing for composite parts, replacing the use of conventional water-coupled ultrasonic devices.
The Laser UT' Center inside the Fort Worth plant is designed to test large composite parts up to 54-feet by 27-feet by 21-feet, such as the composite fuel tank being produced for the X-33 VentureStar vehicle. The facility also includes a test control room, a demonstration area and a laser research laboratory.
The Center's supercomputer-level hardware and graphical visualization software provide the machine operator with a highly automated environment and the most advanced interactive data analysis tools in the industry. This system, in combination with a second system scheduled to come on-line late in 1999, will give Lockheed Martin the ability to test as many parts as 20 conventional machines, at 10 times the speed. Lockheed Martin has applied for six patents covering various aspects of the Laser UT' System.
Dr. Vincent J. Russo, director of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said, "Laser ultrasonics has the potential to significantly lower the cost of building and maintaining aircraft and spacecraft that use complex shaped composite parts. We are pleased to see that Lockheed Martin has implemented the technologies developed under the sponsorship of the Air Force Research Laboratory."
Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems produces the F-16 for the U.S. Air Force and a number of foreign countries, and is leading the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter team. The company also produces the F-22's mid-fuselage and is participating in the production of Japan's F-2 fighter, which features a composite wingbox.
Lockheed Martin received one of the two Joint Strike Fighter Concept Demonstration contracts the Department of Defense awarded on November 16, 1996. Lockheed Martin is teamed with Northrop Grumman and British Aerospace in the JSF program.
Approximately 3,000 Joint Strike Fighters are planned for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and the United Kingdom's Royal Navy, replacing several current aircraft types. Export sales could exceed 2,000 additional aircraft over the life of the program.