Since its successful completion, others have followed in its steps. “Boeing built the Phantom Eye that uses a significant amount of OOA,” says John Russell, technical director of the Manufacturing and Industrial Technologies Division at the Air Force Research Laboratory. “Commercial aircraft are also looking into OOA, because they realize you can make bigger parts that cannot be made in the current largest autoclave.”
The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is conducting testing that will eventually reduce the number of specimens needed to qualify a part for aerospace applications. Its results will be considered the “holy grail” for manufacturers in the defense industry. “If we can cut down the number of tests without increasing risk, it would lower the hurdle for companies to look at new materials,” says Russell.
Despite all of the research and development efforts conducted by the military and defense sector, most organizations are in a holding pattern. “A lot of decisions are determined by the federal budget,” says Russell. “There are studies being done on the next-generation mobility airplane, bomber and fighter. The Department of Defense will determine if it will build new aircraft or repair to existing ones.” Russell adds if the military requires new aircraft to replace C-5s and C-17s or a replacement for the B-52 or B-1, then OOA is a great solution because of the large size those aircraft are projected to be. “However, if it’s a fighter plane, I don’t see the need for OOA,” he says. “The parts are small enough to use the existing autoclaves in the industrial base.”