Innovation in Marine Corps: 3D printing in aviation

By Lance Cpl. Seth Rosenberg 1st Marine Aircraft Wing

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Peter Jacobson, an aviation ordnance technician with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, noticed a problem with corrosion of a bucket housing cover on the F35B Lightning II jet. He used additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, to make an infrared countermeasure bucket housing cover preventing corrosion in the bucket housing while in Japan, where humidity is high during summer months.

As this technology becomes more reliable, Marines like Jacobson are using 3-D printing to accomplish the mission in a cost-efficient and timely manner.

“We are looking across the spectrum of items within the squadron for how we can implement 3-D printing,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Richard Rusnok, commanding officer of VMFA-121. “3-D printing will allow us to be agile with logistics by reducing how much equipment we need to take with us when deploying. It also drastically cuts down the time it takes to get parts - a critical capability when you are forward deployed as we are.”

Jacobson, a Libertyville, Illinois native, noticed that when the infrared countermeasure bucket housing, a device designed to protect aircraft from infrared heat seeking missiles, became corroded, the contact points could not transfer enough electricity to send the flares out. Because of this, the pilot could only use a portion of the flares that were loaded. Using a design program, Jacobson developed a cover and sent it in to the base library, where it was printed. After some trial and error, his final product was ready for use and will be sent up to the Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin for final testing.

“If it’s not going to take away from the safety of that part then use it,” Jacobson said. “With any piece of Marine Corps equipment, if it gets rusted over, that’s just eating away at it. It’s going to die before its expected life. So if you can prevent corrosion from occurring on an aircraft, you can actually have it fill that life cycle.”

Jacobson’s work with the 3-D printer is just one example of technology making the Marine Corps more efficient. The bucket housing cover will be used to reduce time and resources spent doing maintenance on aircraft. If approved, the cover will be adopted as part of the F-35B Lightning II’s red gear, which is a set of covers only put on the aircraft when on the ground as protection from the elements.

“Sgt. Jacobson saw a problem, developed a solution, and ultimately manufactured a solution,” said Rusnok. “This is the kind of critical thinking and initiative we want our Marines to have to allow us to win future battles.”

Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing website.