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Keep Aging Fleets Flying

Keep Aging Fleets Flying

The University of Dayton Research Institute has won three multi-million dollar "task-order" contracts in the last six months and hired 50 people -- all to help the Air Force and Army improve the reliability and maintenance of their aging fleets.

Under a task-order contract, the federal government sets a ceiling on funding, and researchers propose projects that meet the research guidelines, according to Mickey McCabe, director of UDRI. In the highly competitive arena of federally sponsored research, the contracts are important because they allow research-and-development organizations the ability to compete for funding for major projects in areas of their expertise, McCabe said.

The new research projects include:

  • A subcontract, worth more than $10 million with S&K Technologies, a Native American owned firm owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Ronan, Mont. UDRI researchers will help the company predict corrosion patterns more efficiently, develop inspection routines and determine repair procedures. The Air Force spends about $800 million a year to combat corrosion on its aircraft, according to Richard Kinzie, an engineer with the Air Force Research Laboratory, which oversees the Air Force Corrosion Office located at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins, Ga. The four-year award, estimated at $29.5 million, is the largest issued by Warner Robins to a small minority firm this fiscal year, according to base contracting officials. UDRI and S&K Technologies both operate satellite offices at Warner Robins, and S&K Technologies now has operations in Dayton.
  • A five-year program with a ceiling of $450 million to develop more effective but less expensive ways to maintain aircraft, prevent pollution and process hazardous materials. The first contract -- $2.1 million to develop better coatings to fight corrosion on aircraft -- will be conducted in labs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense through the Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, and it focuses on many of the technologies UDRI specializes in, such as vibration damping, nondestructive evaluation, composite materials engineering, and environmental evaluation and protection. UDRI recently established an office in Ogden, Utah, to carry out the program. Other research team members include Computer Sciences Corp., Innovative Logistics Techniques Inc., Mission Research Corp., Earth Tech, Aerospace Engineering Spectrum and Peer Consultants.
  • As part of a team of 20 partners in a five-year, $2 billion program, UDRI will help the U.S. Army extend the life of helicopters and related equipment. Called Omnibus 2000, the project is funded by the Army's Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., home to the Army's Aviation and Missile Command. UDRI will propose projects in such areas as testing and evaluation, aeromechanics, environmental control, propulsion and materials research, according to McCabe.

"It takes a lot of work and financial investment to win these types of contracts, but they open the door to opportunities that allow us to bring our great resources to the Air Force and the Army," McCabe said. "UDRI has strong capability in providing research and development for aging systems. We are able to perform basic research as well as applying science and engineering to help solve problems -- from why do things fail to how do you put a patch on a crack on an aircraft sitting on a runway."

The work is significant to the Air Force and Army because the federal government can save hundreds of millions of dollars by repairing and maintaining their fleets rather than investing in costly new systems, according to McCabe, who estimates that 40 percent of the Air Force's fleet is more than 25 years old.

"In the past, we made our mark by being focused on discovery and implementing discoveries," McCabe said. "Today, the business environment we operate in has changed to applying knowledge, solving problems. UDRI is well positioned."

For more than 40 years, UDRI has performed research for the Air Force, Navy, aircraft manufacturers, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, developing techniques that make aircraft safer to fly. Consider:

  • UDRI has built a one-of-a-kind mobile trailer, the size of a recreational vehicle, for applying composite material repairs to aircraft components right on the runway. Originally designed for Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, the portable maintenance shop has been used at military installations across the country.
  • UDRI has designed bird-resistant windshield and canopy systems that have been credited for saving the lives of at least 10 pilots and, by protecting aircraft, have saved at least $1 billion in aircraft losses in two decades.
  • A UDRI computer program calculates how fast cracks grow in an aircraft's structure, letting engineers determine the probability of fracture and plan timely inspections.
  • UDRI researchers have developed inspection techniques that provide enhanced ultrasonic images of damage in composite materials often used in aircraft.

The University of Dayton Research Institute employs approximately 350 full-time researchers, scientists and support staff, who conduct $40 million of sponsored research annually. It is the region's leading research-and-development organization.

September 14, 2000


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