The US Air Force (USAF) announced that Aerobotix has developed a new robotic technology for restoring specialised coatings on F-22 Raptor engine inlets.

The technology was developed as part of the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programme.

Aerobotix was awarded a $1.5m SBIR contract to develop the robotic system, which is said to be a complex multi-axis system with a long carbon fibre arm to reach deep into the engine inlet ducts.

The project was carried out in collaboration with engineers from the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) F-22 System Program Office, which are based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB), Ohio, and Hill AFB, Utah.

AFLCMC F-22 structures and system safety engineer at Hill AFB Colin Allen said: “The depot F-22 maintainer’s workload is challenging, and this project will help speed up that restoration process and ultimately the throughput of the depot.

"The depot F-22 maintainer’s workload is challenging, and this project will help speed up that restoration process and ultimately the throughput of the depot."

“The number of F-22s to go through the restoration process on a yearly basis will be based on mission requirements and depot availability, but the objective remains to get the aircraft back into the warfighter’s hands as quickly as possible.”

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This robotic technology has been developed to reduce the time taken for aircraft maintenance, as well as to improve consistency and overall quality of the coatings applied.

The USAF noted it is expected to reduce the overall hours required to restore the inlets for the lifecycle of the aircraft.

AFRL Electronics & Sensors Branch, Manufacturing & Industrial Technologies Division, Materials & Manufacturing Directorate materials research engineer Carl Lombard said that the project has "included the use of computing power using modelling and simulation to accomplish the objectives for the depot F-22 maintenance team".

Image: F-22 Raptors will encounter robotic technology newly developed through the Air Force Small Business Research programme. Photo: courtesy of Andrew McMurtrie, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company.