12.06.18 06:30 PM By Jennie Hempstead

Just as aircrafts are aging, so are the simulators that were built to test and evaluate (T&E) their technologies. Many highly specialized simulators are in danger of obsolesce and can be expensive to upgrade or repair. Despite these challenges, engineers and scientists know that here is real value in maintaining those T&E systems. Sophie Robinson explains to Aerospace Testing International, that value comes from experience. “The flight test community has also spent years developing the processes and methodologies behind test and evaluation, such that they are robust and resilient – and while the technology might be new, the existing protocols and practices are equally as applicable to new technology as they are to scenarios
that have been repeated tens, if not hundreds, of times.” She continues, “The flight test community has also demonstrated repeatedly that it can be practical and adaptable.”

While Robinson highlights the benefits and adaptable nature of older T&E systems, how can federal labs retain best practices and avoid costly repairs? Additive manufacturing capabilities, available to the Air Force Research Laboratory, via the Maker Hub at Wright Brothers Institute – Springfield St. recently helped the Aerospace Systems Directorate (AFRL/RQ) find the answer to that question.

The Large Amplitude Multi-Mode Aerospace Research Simulator (LAMARS) has a history of influence in aerospace. Built in the late 1970s, LAMARS is a complex flight simulator used to test in-flight dynamics, the handling qualities of different platforms and man-machine interaction.
It features a large scale five degrees of freedom motion system to a unique design and a 360 degree dome-mounted visual system. Pilots are immersed via six projectors that provide an ‘out the window’ visual image on a curved screen.

Over the years, the aggressive nature of motion testing caused the projector lenses to move, creating degraded out-the window images. Without visual realism, simulation capability was diminished. It seemed like it was time for an upgrade. However, AFRL/RQ was met with sticker shock when they investigated replacing the projectors. Replacements containing the necessary mechanical locking features carried an estimate of $60,000 for each projector, totaling $300K. An alternative solution was found in the Maker Hub. Tom Mitchell, WBI Director of the Maker Hub rapidly prototyped locking mechanisms for the existing projectors, using additive manufacturing techniques, for $60 in materials. Because of the nature of the Air Force acquisition process, it is also estimated that 10+ weeks of labor were saved.

WBI’s combination of additive manufacturing equipment, technical expertise and ability to ideate quickly saved the Air Force considerable time and money. As T&E equipment ages, the Maker Hub will continue to provide innovative, cost-effective solutions to these challenges.

Want to read more of our FY18Q2 report? Download it here.