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AF develops high-temperature, abrasion-resistant coating for fighter aircraft

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFNS) -- The Air Force and a small business partner developed an innovative, high-temperature, abrasion-resistant coating product that could directly improve the reliability and maintainability of weapon systems across the Air Force, including the F-35 Lightning II.

With funding from the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program, Texas Research Institute (TRI), in Austin, Texas, the Proteckt high-temperature coating has demonstrated significant improvements in abrasion resistance at operational temperatures during laboratory testing.

“This is roughly a 2,000 percent improvement in the average time between coating failures and directly addresses a current F-35 need,” said Maj. George Woodworth, the Air Force Research Laboratory SBIR project manager. “We anticipate that the new material will provide the program an estimated $14 million in life-cycle cost savings.”

Abrasion-resistant camouflage coatings are used to protect composite surfaces of aircraft. These coatings are thin and usually spray- applied. Existing products experience some degradation in performance and color over time, especially when exposed to high temperatures, and can cause extensive damage to the underlying composite material.

“When a coating wears prematurely, it also causes an unscheduled maintenance burden to repair or strip and recoat the area,” Woodworth said. “If the degradation is not discovered in time, damage to the underlying aircraft section can occur.”

Currently, the preferred abrasion-resistant camouflage coatings are filled polyurethane paints. These paints have moderate high-temperature resistance, but very poor long-term wear resistance at high temperatures and they degrade over time, resulting in the need for frequent repair and recoating.

However, the Air Force needs abrasion-resistant coatings that can withstand high temperatures for longer durations and that match the existing camouflage paint schemes of aircraft parts. TRI evaluated a variety of raw materials, developed numerous coating formulations in conjunction with the experimental design development process and then identified the best formulations.

The new Proteckt camouflage coating offers greatly improved high-temperature abrasion resistance for aerospace composite applications. The coating cures faster, is resistant to standard aircraft fluids, meets color and gloss requirements, and exhibits good adhesion, even after accelerated fluid exposures.

It can be applied using traditional procedures, including brush, roller and high-volume low-pressure spray.

Due to high interest in the product, the firm received a $1.3 million Rapid Innovation Funding award to further advance the technology. TRI has an excellent record of SBIR transition success with a commercialization portfolio of over $30 million.

For more information, please call the Air Force SBIR/STTR Program Office at 1-800-222-0336, email info@afsbirsttr.com, or visit our website at www.afsbirsttr.com.

(Information courtesy of the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program office, Air Force Research Laboratory)