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Superplastic Forming of Aluminum Aircraft Assemblies

Objective

Develop and demonstrate enabling technologies for the cost-effective superplastic forming (SPF) of aluminum aircraft assemblies. The emphasis is on manufacturing cost reduction through part unitization and design, optimization of the forming process, as well as fabrication of a production-ready T-45A nose cone or nose barrel assembly.

Technical Approach

This project provided a design environment for complex SPF aluminum assemblies by identifying analysis tools needed for the application of superplastically formed aluminum sheet to airframe components, including research-quality and commercially available systems. It then enhanced modeling codes to support superplastically formed aluminum assembly fabrication. Materials property data have been provided for alloys of interest under SPF conditions, and bonding techniques have been evaluated for performance, production costs and inspection methods. Redesign efforts to support components have been performed as appropriate. Small panels have been fabricated to validate and compare predicted component properties to those obtained in a service environment. A scale-up plan for manufacturing, testing and evaluating full-scale parts, with appropriate manufacturers and end-users, will be established. Technologies will be surveyed for reduced-cost tooling. Manufacturers will be supported in using SPF aluminum assemblies to reduce component costs and weights.

Benefits

Superplastic forming is a net-shape processing technology that dramatically reduces fabrication and assembly costs by reducing the number of parts and the assembly requirements. Using SPF technology, it was anticipated that a 50% manufacturing cost reduction can be achieved for many aircraft assemblies, such as the nose cone and nose barrel assemblies. Other spin-offs include weight reduction, elimination of hundreds of fasteners, elimination of complex fixturing and a significant reduction in the number of parts.

Implementation

Technology insertion will take place throughout the project duration through the active involvement of the aircraft manufacturer. Production-ready tooling will be delivered for T-45A nose cone production. Manuals, software and other items that are necessary for successful technology transition are available to the Department of Defense (DoD) and all interested DoD vendors. Part families from existing and proposed DoD aircrafts that are expected to benefit from this technology have been identified.

Status

Completed