Air Force partners with WSU-NIAR to tear down and inspect a high time B-1B fuselage


The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center B-1 Division is sponsoring a research project with Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) to study the effects of flight operations on aircraft structures.

The NIAR team will dismantle the B-1B 86-0101 fuselage, remove all the paint and primer, and perform high-fidelity inspections looking for cracks and corrosion on the entire fuselage, including areas that have been inaccessible since manufacturing in the mid-1980s. To augment the ongoing NIAR B-1 Digital Twin Program, components that were not delivered with the Digital Twin fuselage will be scanned and digitized to complete the virtual fuselage model. To meet these objectives, NIAR will transport the 86-0101 fuselage from Tinker Air Force Base to its facility north of Wichita.

Manufactured in 1986, tail #86-0101 was divested from service on April 19, landing for the final time at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. Now after a six-week process to remove wings, horizontal and vertical stabilizers, and landing gear, the 130-foot long, 29-foot wide, and 16-foot tall fuselage traveled the 165 miles on a truck designed specifically for this large transport. In addition, NIAR will transport a wing, nacelle, flaps, slats, spoilers, radomes, and other components of interest to the B-1 Division.

86-0101 was selected for this research program as it is one of the highest time airframes recently divested from the fleet. A complete teardown and comprehensive inspection program will provide the B-1 Division a unique understanding of the current condition of the aging fleet. The inspection results will allow the B-1 Division to proactively inspect the fleet, design repairs in advance of the fleet need, and more comprehensively manage the fleet of aging bombers.

“NIAR is excited to continue to support the B-1 Division’s mission of keeping the aging bombers operating safely through 2040,” said Melinda Laubach-Hock, NIAR’s B-1 program manager and director of sustainment. “Advancements toward proactively managing the fleet with inspections, repairs and maintenance will directly improve mission readiness on this key military asset.”

“Wichita State’s partnership with the B-1 Division supports sustainment efforts for legacy weapon systems, like the B-1, that will immediately impact the preparedness of the warfighter,” said John Tomblin, Wichita State’s senior vice president for industry and defense and NIAR’s executive director. “In addition, these programs provide applied learning opportunities for Wichita State graduate and undergraduate students, which, in turn, allows the military to grow its future workforce.”

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