As the U.S. Air Force ushers in a new era of aerial refueling with the KC-46, Boeing KC-135 engineers are using digital engineering to sustain the aircraft for continued operations. Advanced technology has brought about a new era of designing aircraft and engineers of today will rely on engineers of yesterday to keep the Stratotanker flying for many years.
Exemplified through its Mission Accelerator portfolio, Boeing is leveraging innovative digital processes to enable product development to be faster, more cost efficient, and achieve higher levels of first-time quality. However, how do you use this process on an aircraft predating the technology and initially designed on mylar? Simply put, you transfer full-scale, hand-drawn horizontal stabilizer blueprints into a three-dimensional model.
“Our team will take two-dimensional engineering of the horizontal stabilizers from nearly 70 years ago and remaster the design, bringing it up to modern design standards,” said Jared Rodgers, KC-135 engineering manager at Boeing. “For us to accomplish this, we will transfer these drawings into three-dimensional space allowing the use of a hybrid model-based approach for design and manufacturing.”
The mylar blueprints require an environment-controlled room to accurately scan them into three-dimensional software programs, states Rodgers. He points out where extra pixels appeared on blueprints from decades of being rescanned and it is the team’s ambition in ensuring these inadvertently-added elements are removed in the transfer.
“The initial KC-135 engineers were meticulous in drafting and used cross-sectional templates to define part shapes,” said Rodgers. “As the original engineering data ages and is revised over the years, drawings become hard to read and our team will utilize digital loft data combined with high accuracy drawing scans to better reflect the original intended engineering definition.”