USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon Breaks the Norm With a Game-Changing “Digital Twin”

Ever thought about how complicated it must be to perform repairs or modernization tasks on military aircraft, in terms of costs and time, not to mention the downtime? Well, not anymore. The U.S. Air Force is changing the way this is done, with a new era of digitalization dawning.
An F-16 is waiting at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to be moved to Wichita. 6 photos
Photo: Air Force Life Cycle Management Center
F-16 Fighting FalconF-16 Fighting FalconF-16 Fighting FalconF-16 Fighting FalconF-16 Fighting Falcon
Two F-16 Fighting Falcons are currently waiting patiently at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Soon, they will be disassembled and scanned, in order to create a “digital twin”.

The Wichita State University’s National Institute of Aviation Research (NIAR) will perform these operations, under a new contract sponsored by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s F-16 Program Office.

Instead of relying on the actual aircraft for any type of change, an adjustable 3D model will make the sustainment and modernization process much easier and more effective. Together with Lockheed-Martin, the F-16 Program Office and NIAR plan to create a full scale 3D model of the F-16.

This way, the 3D model could be sent to any manufacturer in the future, without depending on what are known as “legacy manufacturing sources and processes”, and without added downtime for the aircraft, before implementing the actual changes.

Another great advantage is that any future ideas or solutions could be first tested in a virtual engineering environment. According to the program’s representatives, this equals reduced costs and an innovative tool that engineers can use to go beyond what was possible until now.

The first step is to create a replica of the aircraft’s structure only, but digital models of the fuel system, hydraulic system and environmental control system will soon follow, and be truly groundbreaking. Plus, the digital twin will become an essential part of virtual reality training, which is also on the rise within USAF.

The 2 F-16 aircraft will be moved to Wichita in a few months, and the project will unfold over the course of 4 years. By that time, a solid foundation will be established for expanding digital engineering within the U.S. Air Force fleet.
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About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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