Bedrock 3D prints aircraft parts, preserves AF heritage

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Marco A. Gomez
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

When maintaining aircraft that are more than 70 years old, finding original aircraft parts can be hard to come by.

The Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, is home to many aircraft dating all the way back to World War I. As years of display took its toll on these historic relics, the museum needed a way to replace worn and broken parts.

Museum leaders reached out to Bedrock, Dover AFB’s innovation lab, who used 3D-printing capabilities to manufacture a multitude of pieces and help preserve the historic and accurate nature of the displays.

“It’s nearly impossible to find the parts we need to restore or maintain our aircraft,” said Eric Czerwinski, Air Mobility Command Museum deputy director. “Several of the aircraft we house here are many decades old and need to be consistently maintained to preserve them for future generations. We can’t always protect the aircraft from aging. There’s just too many things to consider like the natural elements, light sensitivity and time.”

So far, Bedrock has fabricated parts for a head-up display belonging to a C-17 Globemaster III flight deck display and throttle handle pieces for a KB-50J Superfortress.

“When the C-17 first came out, this was one of the demonstrators they would bring around to different air shows to show off its capabilities,” said Czerwinski. “Over the years, the head-up display on these things, people would reach in, grab [the instruments], and would easily break [them].”

The museum also had aesthetic problems with the throttle handles on the KB-50J. Over time, the handles fell apart due to the heat during the summer months.

“We’re working on restoring the KB-50J, and one of the challenges was replacing the throttle handles,” said Czerwinski. “I think that’s the great thing about a program like Bedrock, it gives us a better avenue to reproduce replica parts quickly so we can restore these aircraft as close as possible to their original state.”

Bedrock was designed to leverage technology and intuitive solutions to fix the military’s problems and bridge the gap between Dover AFB’s Airmen and Guardians and industry experts.

“It’s pretty cool being part of the restoration process,” said 2nd Lt. Johann Johnson, 436th Airlift Wing Bedrock project lead. “We’re very happy to help the museum with re-fabricating parts for their aircraft displays. It also benefits us by giving us more practice on using the 3D printers and really pushing the boundaries on what they can do.”

“One of the last things we’re waiting on is the screws to come in for the head-up display system for the C-17,” said Johnson. “We’re also pretty much done with the throttle handle pieces for the KB-50J.”

Czerwinski says the work with Bedrock has provided a quicker, more cost-effective alternative to maintain the integrity of the aircraft and preserve them so future generations can continue to visit the museum.

“That's why you preserve it,” said Czerwinski. “Because it gives people the context in which history is given. It wasn't [only] written in books, it was actually fought in the skies of Germany or flown over France. It’s one thing to look at something in an old black and white photo, but it's another thing to actually stand in front of it and see it in person. It gives you a real appreciation, not only for the technology, but also for the men and women who actually flew this aircraft.”