Nickel-based materials are used in several components of today’s fighter aircraft; however, working with these materials can be dangerous for installers and requires special handling procedures.
Through a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract with the Air Force, Triton Systems, Inc., located in Massachusetts, developed a nickel-free material technology that is positioned for transition to several F-35 Joint Strike Fighter applications. Transition of this technology is anticipated to save $550 million across the aircraft’s lifecycle.
“Identifying environmentally benign and more affordable alternatives to nickel will provide significant benefits across the Air Force,” said Maj. George Woodworth, an Air Force Research Laboratory researcher. “Implementation of Triton’s non-nickel-based material system will significantly reduce sustainment costs and eliminate the risk of exposure for factory workers, military maintainers and depot workers.”
The nickel-free conductive filler material was developed in close collaboration with F-35 equipment manufacturers. Triton has used its manufacturing process and pilot manufacturing scale equipment to demonstrate several relevant product forms. It has also demonstrated fully formulated resin systems that meet the specific technical requirements for the F-35 program.
According to Woodworth, the initial success Triton achieved under the SBIR program led to additional funding through the Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) program. The RIF award enabled Triton to mature the technology to a level appropriate for qualification and transition into aircraft.
The Air Force SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are mission-oriented programs that integrate the needs and requirements of the Air Force through research and development topics that have military and commercial potential. The SBIR program was established by Congress in 1982 to fund research and development (R&D) through small businesses of 500 or fewer employees. The STTR program was established in 1992 to fund cooperative R&D projects with small businesses and non-profit U.S. research institutions, such as universities.
The Air Force SBIR and STTR programs provide more than $300 million in funding for research and development activities by small businesses annually. With this budget, the Air Force funds research from the early stages of concept development until it transitions to military or commercial use.