Naval Air Systems Command is preparing to launch the first Marine V-22 Osprey with "mission-critical" 3-D printed parts this year, NAVAIR Vice Commander Rear Adm. (Sel.) Francis Morley said Wednesday.
Speaking at the Sea Air Space expo near Washington, D.C., Morley said the historic flight was expected to take place in coming months and would serve as a litmus test for the service on the value of the technology and its uses.
"That's where the Rosetta Stone is going to be," he said. "If we can start manufacturing flight-critical components, now you're talking sustainment costs and speed and time; we have some really great opportunities to accelerate."
Morley said he could not immediately say what the parts being 3-D printed were, but NAVAIR additive manufacturing product team leader Elizabeth McMichael told Investor's Business Daily news they included an engine nacelle and link attachment.
While the Navy has long talked about capitalizing on the value of 3-D printing, launching a "Print the Fleet" initiative in late 2014 to encourage the printing of spare parts and other small items, the additive manufacturing of Osprey parts shows the service is taking steps toward putting its money where its mouth is.
Morley indicated that Navy officials were still working to ensure the 3-D printing process would produce part just as sturdy as those produced in conventional manufacturing processes.
"We know so much about material properties in the way we normally create flight-critical components, or what have you, through generations of experimentation, that's kind of how we nub through the knowledge of, you heat and cool and produce a piece of metal that's going to take stress and strain and all that," he said.
"I haven't seen the breakthrough oh, we're finally going to carry the one and just like that, figure all that out. But of course we have the advantage of incredible computing power now, we can do these reps a lot quicker," he added.
Meanwhile, the Navy is getting closer to having its own Osprey variant. In April, NAVAIR awarded Bell-Boeing a $151 million contract to being working on the Navy-specific version, CMV-22B, which will be used to deliver gear and supplies to aircraft carriers. The Navy expects to receive its first Ospreys in 2020.