Lockheed Martin Inspects X-33 Fuel Tanks with Innovative Laser Technology
Fort Worth, Texas, October 20th, 1999 -- Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems developed its innovative LaserUT™ ultrasonic inspection system to test the integrity of composite materials in future fighters. However, the system is currently proving its value in another advanced aerospace project, the X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle program.
In support of Lockheed Martin Michoud Space Systems in New Orleans, the Tactical Aircraft Systems plant in Fort Worth, Texas, recently used the LaserUT system to produce ultrasound images of a liquid hydrogen test tank after it had undergone more than 70 cycles of cryogenic testing by NASA. LaserUT's unique capabilities allowed inspection of this 17-foot by 10-foot by 5-foot composite tank without any special tooling or prior data input concerning the tank's shape.
The X-33 is an advanced technology demonstrator for the VentureStarTM, a reusable launch vehicle program that will not drop tanks and rocket boosters along its flight path like today's launch vehicles. Consequently, Venture Star has no components to remanufacture or reassemble. Reusing the entire vehicle will result in dramatically lower costs of operation for space transportation services of up to one-tenth of today's cost. A series of flight tests for the X-33 is scheduled to begin in 2000.
LaserUT technology is unique to Lockheed Martin, which holds multiple patents for the system. The technology is also a key discriminator in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) competition, which will require an unprecedented level of testing capability due to the aircraft's higher percentage of composites than previous fighters.
The technology is expected to save several hundred million dollars over the lives of both the F-22 and JSF programs due to greatly increased parts throughput. For example, using conventional equipment, it takes about 24 hours to inspect a composite inlet duct for the F-22. With LaserUT that time has been cut to less than two hours, representing a 90 percent reduction in test cycle times.
The LaserUT Center is a 10,000 square foot facility that became operational in January 1999. A second production facility is scheduled to come on-line during the first quarter of 2000. Together, they will give Tactical Aircraft Systems the ability to test as many composite parts as 20 conventional machines, at 10 times the speed.
Composites are composed of layers of graphite-epoxy materials that are cured under heat and pressure in an autoclave. Ultrasonic testing is required to find inconsistencies and other potential flaws that could lead to part failure under conditions of structural stress.
Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, Calif., is prime contractor for the X-33 and is providing flyable liquid hydrogen tanks based on the technology that has been demonstrated with the test tanks.
Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth plant produces the F-16 for the U.S. Air Force and a number of foreign countries and is leading Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter team. The company also produces the F-22's mid-fuselage section and is participating in the production of Japan's F-2 fighter.