AFRL Materials researchers keeping Wright “B” Flyer aloft

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Researchers from the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate rose to the need for the Wright “B” Flyer, helping to ensure continued airworthiness for the historic replica aircraft so near and dear to many in the Dayton, Ohio, area. 

Wright “B” Flyer, Inc., a volunteer organization that operates the replica aircraft, called upon the AFRL Structural Materials Evaluation team following a non-injury incident in 2016 during which an engine cooling fan disk fractured during flight, forcing an emergency landing. The organization’s goal was to determine the exact cause of the failure in order to initiate appropriate repairs and prevent a future occurrence.

“This request was right in line with what we do all the time,” said Alan Oquendo, materials engineer and project analysis lead. “While this type of failure was not unusual to us, it was interesting that the work we were doing was for the replica of an aircraft that is so meaningful to our local community.”

Oquendo said the team approached the task by looking at the crankshaft and flywheel assembly. Through careful analysis, they uncovered evidence of relative motion between the flywheel and the fan disk, indicating a loss of clamping force during flight. This loss of clamp force led to instability and ultimate failure of the engine fan disk.

Based on their findings, the team recommended that the maintainers simplify the design of the clamping joint in question, including using improved studs that are more suited for rotating joints. They also provided additional maintenance procedure recommendations.

It’s all in a day’s work for the Materials Integrity teams, who are often informally called the “CSI of the Air Force.” These materials experts are sought out by government agencies and Department of Defense-related industry worldwide to investigate mishaps and material failures and to provide rapid-response solutions. The work they do keeps Air Force systems safe, available, and affordable, and ensures airworthiness for future missions.

Oquendo said that whether the project involves a complex Air Force platform or something simpler like the Wright “B” Flyer, it is all treated with care and attention to the tiniest detail.

“It is exciting work, and it makes us unique. The work we do is critical to the safety of flight for the Air Force and beyond.”