USAF Airman Develops 3D Printed Metal Bracket for use in C-130 Fleet

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Above: USAF Tech. Sgt. Jason Felts drills a hole in a new 3D printed metal bracket at LRAFB/Image Credit: U.S. Air Force – Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford

United States Air Force Airman – Tech. Sgt. Ryan McBride, currently stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base (LRAFB), collaborated with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center to develop a 3D printed metal hydraulic pump bracket for the C-130J Super Hercules.

Tech. Sgt. Ryan McBride of the 19th Maintenance Squadron is NCO-in-charge of metals technology brought his idea to fruition on 4th June, 2020, when the 3D printed metal bracket became one of the first 3D printed metal parts to be installed on the C-130J.

The US Air Force has allowed its airmen to be innovative in order to outpace and outmanoeuvre adversaries by solving problems they encounter every day – it’s what allows the Air Force to move faster, smarter and maintain its competitive edge.


3D Printed Metal Bracket

Above: USAF Tech. Sgt. Jason Felts inspects the new 3D printed metal bracket/Image Credit: U.S. Air Force – Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford

A metal bracket in the C-130 fleet is a device that allows for raising or lowering of the ramp with a hand pump when the aircraft is either powered off or the hydraulic system fails. It holds the C-130J’s manual hydraulic pump

During his time working on the C-130Js, McBride observed that the bracket regularly broke due to the immense force required to operate the pump and the team had to spend time and effort in manufacture it locally.

Explaining the problem the Airmen faced, 1st Lt. Jesse Montgomery, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center C-130 structures engineer said, “With its current design, the bracket can withstand very minimal side loading from the pump handle. Because of this, an estimated 30 to 40 brackets break per year and must be locally manufactured which is a very difficult and time-consuming process.”

3D Printed Metal Bracket

Above: 3D printed metal bracket (left) and the old hydraulic pump bracket (right)/Image Credit: U.S. Air Force – Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford

The re-creation of the bracket provided an opportunity to completely revamp its structure and strength to decrease the number of repairs needed over time.

Montgomery continued, “Lab testing has shown the new 3D printed metal bracket can withstand three times the downward force, and 10 times the side force compared to the original bracket, making it much less likely to break in the field. The 3D printed version also costs an estimated $3,800 less per part to make, and requires significantly less man-hours to produce. It also showcases the power of 3D printing in using complex geometry to improve strength and reduce costs which would not be possible using traditional manufacturing.”

3D Printed Metal Bracket

Above: 3D printing the bracket will make it easier for C-130J maintenance units across the Air Force to obtain the part and eliminate the need to manufacture the part themselves/Image Credit: U.S. Air Force – Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford

McBride said, “3D printing the bracket will make it easier for C-130J maintenance units across the Air Force to obtain the part and eliminate the need to manufacture it themselves. Pending successful field testing, the bracket can be mass produced for the supply chain. Once approved, we will be able to order already printed parts that are ready for installation.”

McBride added, “As 3D printing becomes more prevalent, it has the potential to become more commonplace for engineering and manufacturing aircraft parts at a cheaper and more efficient rate. This introduces people to the benefits of 3D printing aircraft parts. This is just the beginning. It’s still fairly new technology, but it’s becoming much more readily available.”

Montgomery said, “As older models of aircraft continue to age and production of parts become less prevalent, 3D printing is seen as a potential solution to future limitations within the supply chain. Hopefully this part serves to spark the creativity of C-130 units across the Air Force once they see the capabilities of 3D printing and its broad applications for Air Force aviation.”

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Airmen like McBride contribute to the innovative culture of the Air Force, embracing a standing challenge posed to the force from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein.

According to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, “Our heritage of success is based on innovation, made possible by our diverse group of professional, dedicated and warrior Airmen. Airmen are the strength of the Air Force. I challenge each of you to take deliberate steps toward expanding your understanding of this new national security environment, the threats we will face and the tools we will need to prevail. Your dedication and commitment to expand your understanding ensures we remain the best Air Force the world has ever seen.”

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Manufactur3D is an Indian Online 3D Printing Media Platform that reports on the latest news, insights and analysis from the Indian and the Global 3D Printing Industry.
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