Construction of the F-35 Lightning II prototypes had hit a snag. Small-statured workers were having to squeeze into inlet ducts to drill hundreds of holes by hand to prepare ducts for attachment to the airframe. Not only was the inside-out drilling process unsustainable for workers, but in ultra-high-performance aircraft like the F-35, holes must be extremely consistent and precise.
Northrop Grumman, a principle member of the F-35 industry team, took the challenge to the automotive sector, and in 2007, Michigan-based Variation Reduction Solutions, Inc. (VRSI) won a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to find solutions. Three short years later, Northrop Grumman integrated the game-changing Inlet Duct Robotic Drilling (IDRD) cell into their F-35 Integrated Assembly Line, calling it the “crown jewel” of their production line.
The VRSI-led IDRD technology is just one of many successful innovations enabled by the US Air Force’s SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. For more information, visit afsbirsttr.com.
JSF clearance: JSF17 –341