As part of a two-year Wing Structure Design for Manufacturing (WiSDM) contract for Air Force Research Laboratory, Continuous Composites has manufactured a Low Cost Attritable Aircraft (LCAA) wing. Achieved through Lockheed Martin, the project focused on a new structural design paradigm, when coupled with commensurate materials and manufacturing.

With the goal of reducing costs and lead times for attritable airframe structures,  Continuous Composites has utilized its patented Continuous Fiber 3D Printing (CF3D®) technology to 3D print the structural carbon fiber spars of the wing assembly.

Structural performance was demonstrated when the completed wing box was statically tested and achieved 160% design limit load (DLL) before the compression skin buckled. The spars did not fail.

Several technologies that focus on new materials and new manufacturing processes have been utilized as part of the project. Continuous Composites’ CF3D® was especially used to print the spars, long fiber injection molding for ribs, additively manufactured tooling, automated fiber placement for skins, autodrill and robotic assembly.

The final wing assembly was delivered to the United States Air Force to undergo static load testing. The fully assembled wing was loaded to 160% of Design Limit Load. No measured or visual damage to the CF3D® printed spars was detected. The printed carbon fiber spars achieved a 60% fiber volume fraction with approximately 1% to 2% voids.

The successful work with Continuous Composites and AFRL’s focus on CF3D® for this project not only advances new 3D printing technology but also offers the potential for aerospace-grade composite printing in high-performance industries,” says John Scarcello, Senior Manager, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works®. “We recognize this process is paving the way for broader applications within both defense and commercial applications, and Lockheed Martin plans to be part of that future of advanced manufacturing.”

Ray Fisher, Air Force Research Laboratory Program Manager commented, “CF3D® presents an innovative manufacturing technology that shows great promise to be both low cost and agile to the production rate and responsiveness requirements to realize attritable airframe structures. The success of this LCAA project shows great opportunity for additive manufacturing with customized CF3D® material solutions that can orient structural fibers optimally. It is especially attractive to avoid expensive tooling in manufacturing aerospace structural parts. I look forward to additional opportunities to incorporate CF3D® in increasingly complex structures that are further optimized for attritable enabling production.

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