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U.S. Air Force Base Conducts First Cold Spray Repair to Aircraft

The high-pressure cold spray unit uses helium gas to accelerate spherical aluminum particles to bond with the surface needing repair. Photo by Airman Quentin K. Marx, U.S. Air Force.

At Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, USA, the 28th Maintenance Squadron (MXS) Additive Manufacturing Rapid Repair Facility recently conducted its first-ever cold spray repair on an aircraft.

In September 2019, the section successfully repaired simulated corrosion damage on the wing of a B-52 Stratofortress static display at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum using a GEN III high-pressure cold spray unit from VRC Metal Systems (Box Elder, South Dakota, USA).

“Cold spray is when you shoot particles at supersonic speeds [to] where the particles would build up on the surface of the metal,” says Master Sgt. Jeremy Horstman, section chief for the 28th MXS repair facility. “This cold spray unit uses helium gas to accelerate spherical aluminum particles to bond with the surface… to repair that part.”

The event was first just an idea to see how the rapid repair section could improve cold spray repair procedures. “This project started as an idea for long-term cold spray [repairs], which is structural load-carrying repairs, and was [utilized] to demonstrate [the technology’s] ability to repair non-repairable corrosion-damaged areas,” Horstman says.

In the past, corrosion would be blended out, then painted over. During a cold spray repair, corrosion is removed through the previous procedure, then filled in with the aluminum material. Once filled, technicians sand down the new aluminum until it is flush with the original surface.

The entire procedure demonstrated different ways the technique can be used. It also showed that the system can be transported to any aircraft. Additionally, the ability to move this system allows technicians to work on the aircraft in a safe and productive manner, according to MXS officials.

Source: U.S. Defense Video Imagery Distribution System, www.dvidshub.net.