The US Air Force’s (USAF) 92nd Maintenance Squadron (92nd MXG) is using a new 3D laser imaging technology to maintain the ageing KC-135 Stratotankers at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington.
The Romer Absolute Arm is developed by Hexagon Metrology. It is a portable measurement and 3D scanning solution designed to perform computer-aided design-to-part inspections and accurately capture 3D features and freeform shapes for reverse engineering tasks.
92nd MXS aircraft metals technology craftsman technical sergeant Gregory Kirchner said: "Our new 3D laser imaging arm is absolutely advanced and saves not only inexplicable amounts of money, but man-hours as well.
"We went from capturing and processing a single part in more than 15 hours to less than 20 minutes and increased the success rate from a 40 percent fail rate to nearly perfect every time."
The robot’s reverse engineering aspect is claimed to be crucial as many parts required to ensure mission readiness of the tanker are no longer built, and aircraft boneyards are also running out of spare useable parts.
92nd MXS aircraft metals technology craftsman technical sergeant Daniel Knapp said: "We are working on a 60-year-old airframe that is really becoming limited by the lack of parts in the supply chain.
"It’s falling on us to be able to reverse engineer many of these parts without any kind of drawings, technical data or blueprints from parts that have worn out of service or broken and in pieces and recreate it.
"This machine brings our shop up to par with the civilian machining world enabling us to efficiently produce the best possible parts needed for maintaining air power around the world."
The KC-135 is a jet-powered refuelling tanker designed to refuel long-range strategic bombers, and has been serving as the USAF’s primary refuelling aircraft for more than 50 years. It is developed from the Boeing 367-80 prototype.
Image: 92nd MXG aircraft metals technology craftsman technical sergeant Gregory Kirchner scans a KC-135 Stratotanker part with the new 3D laser imaging arm at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, US. Photo: courtesy of US Air Force photo / Staff Sgt Benjamin W Stratton.