HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — On May 9, Dr. Larry Butkus, Chief Engineer of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, visited Hill AFB to speak in front of a crowd of about 250 Team Hill scientists, engineers, and technical managers.
Dr. Butkus focused his address on new and emerging technology currently under research and development at AFRL.
After highlighting AFRL’s organization of AFRL, he described new advances in technology that will soon be available. First, he introduced a handheld device that will allow technicians to verify that an aircraft surface is clean and ready for bonding using beads of water.
Dr. Butkus next described an advanced coatings booth that expends 30 percent less energy than current coating booths, while maximizing the use of commercial off-the-shelf items. Within these coating booths is a system designed to automatically access and coat aircraft components that are currently difficult for technicians to reach.
Understanding that it is sometimes necessary to remove an aircraft’s coating, Dr. Butkus went on to describe a technology that was inspired by the U.S. Navy and used on submarine coatings. The technology uses a special state of matter, called plasma, to interact with the coating to remove it. The result is that blasting or burning will become unnecessary for removing coatings.
Many weapon systems have areas that are difficult to inspect. Dr. Butkus’ team is working to one day allow Air Force technicians to insert what he described as a “swarm of autonomous robots” into those unreachable areas of the weapon system to perform inspections and to report information wirelessly to a central database. “Years, decades in the future, maybe, but that’s vision that we have,” he said.
With that vision for the future in mind, Dr. Butkus explained some of the benefits that Microsoft’s HoloLens technology may have for future Airmen. HoloLens is an augmented reality device that can be used to display technical instructions to technicians. Dr. Butkus described a possible situation where a technician could have the part in front of them with technical instructions in one corner of the screen and an instructional video in another.
As Dr. Butkus noted, this is only a small sample of the work that is being done at AFRL; these amazing new and emerging advances in technology will soon be arriving here to Hill AFB.