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B-1: Returning to the Fight Faster with Digital Engineering

Exciting News from the B-1 System Program Office: In a stellar display of innovation, the B-1 SPO and Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research have revolutionized aircraft readiness. Their partnership has given birth to the B-1 Digital Twin, transforming the way we approach airframe damage and repairs. Leveraging this groundbreaking digital model, the B-1 SPO has dramatically accelerated repair times.

Structual Digital twin

Aircraft readiness has been a major focus area since the 2018 challenge to improve mission readiness rates from former Defense Secretary James Mattis.  Part obsolescence, fewer manufacturing sources, and reactive fleet management hamper readiness improvement efforts.  Unlike modern aircraft which are “born digital,” many older airframes lack modern engineering tools to assess airframe damage, virtually prototype repairs, and quickly discern risk to operations.  This results in longer repair cycle times due to overly conservative analysis.

The B-1 System Program Office (SPO) is building a set of modern digital engineering tools in a partnership with Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR).  The outcome of this partnership is the B-1 Digital Twin consisting of physical part models as well as external loads and finite element models. Since 2021, the B-1 SPO has leveraged digital models of structural parts to aid suppliers, grow the supplier base, and increase competition for part procurement.  Recently, the SPO started using the newly engineered external loads and finite element models to assess airframe damage in the B-1 fleet.

The engineering tools developed as part of the B-1 Digital Twin program reduced the overall repair time from two years to less than one year.

In late 2022, Dyess Air Force Base approached the SPO to develop a repair for a damaged aircraft with buckled skins on both sides of the aft fuselage.  Tests showed a 20-30% reduction in strength on portions of the damaged fuselage.  Using traditional analysis methods would have yielded a 12-month repair for a one-time flight to the depot at Tinker AFB.  The depot would then remove the temporary repairs to make a final repair of the aircraft.  In total, to return the airframe back to service, the repair cycle was projected to take two years.   

Dissatisfied with traditional analysis tools and methods, the SPO utilized digital tools being developed by NIAR.  NIAR exercised the Digital Twin tools, and the results were favorable.  Seven weeks later, the SPO issued flight restrictions to safely ferry flight the damaged aircraft to Tinker AFB with zero field repairs required.  To complete the return to service, fourteen localized repairs were developed, planned, and installed at depot within four months.   

B-1 a/c 59 skin damage

B-1 a/c 59 skin repair

The engineering tools developed as part of the B-1 Digital Twin program reduced the overall repair time from two years to less than one year. With a fleet size of 45 airframes, the B-1 needs every flying hour from the fleet to meet the aircraft availability and mission requirements. The B-1 Digital Twin allows the SPO to rapidly respond to unexpected aircraft damage and ensures the B-1 continues to meet mission requirements.

This is more than just a win for the SPO; it’s a leap forward for aviation, proving we can keep our fleet mission-ready and resilient. A heartfelt salute to the team’s dedication and the power of digital engineering!

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