Aircraft Skin Repair Basics: Panel Repair

Many industries consider sheet metal fabrication a complex blend of art and science, requiring finesse to achieve the desired results. If you have ever attempted aircraft skin repair, you have undoubtedly done something to that metal and then noticed that it had an unexpected effect somewhere else. Getting unwanted shrinking and stretching where you didn’t intend is a costly and time-consuming mistake.

Today, we’ll look at a specific aircraft skin panel repair that Mid-America Aerotech did for the United States Air Force on a B-1B and how you can utilize that repair method in the commercial market. Mid-America Aerotech is a certified FAA repair station located in West Fargo, North Dakota. The Mid-America Aerotech team services the military, aerospace, and commercial industries and privately-owned airplanes and helicopters.

Aircraft Skin Panel Repair Basics

Structural repairs of aircraft components on aircraft can be intensely complicated. To properly repair aircraft components takes a considerable amount of teamwork, detailed oversight, and effective communication between all involved.

Skin panels are essential aircraft components. They keep the plane pressurized. They provide shape and contour to an airframe. In some cases, skin panels help carry flight and ground loads. Some are affixed permanently (until the airframe comes in for inspection). Some are to be removed after every flight. Regardless of the function, these panels are in constant exposure to the environment.

Over time, corrosion or wear can inflict damage to these essential components. Regardless of the reason, damaged panels need to be repaired or replaced. Because these panels come in various shapes and sizes, they can carry a wide range of costs. On some airframes, these panels can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition to the expense, many more significant and more complicated panels can be difficult to source. They can carry lead times that inhibit the availability of the airframe. This lack of availability can lead to a loss in revenue generation or an organizational reduction in capability. It is both imperative and tactically advantageous to get these panels repaired and reinstalled in a timely fashion.

You can use the following criteria to help decide a sheet metal structure’s repairability:

  • The type of damage
  • The extent of the damage
  • The type of original material
  • The location of the damage
  • The type of repair required
  • The tools and equipment available to make the repair

Enter Cold Spray, As A Solution

Technicians use cold spray technology to effectively and safely repair many aviation components, including aircraft skin panels. Using cold spray in this type of repair reduces maintenance costs and improves turnaround times on hard-to-acquire hardware.

Cold Spray is a metal deposition process where powdered metal is accelerated to several times the speed of sound. When these metal powder particles impact a substrate, they plastically deform and create a bond.

Cold Spray is a solid-state bonding process. What does that mean?

  • No melting.
  • No solidification.
  • No process-related oxides.
  • The deposits are very dense (under .1% porosity) and have very high adhesion.

The B1 Forward Equipment Bay Panel is an access panel at the nose of the aircraft. These panels are removed and reinstalled very frequently. As such, this repeated removal and replacement of the fasteners causes wear on the fastener holes. These panels are costly and can take a very long time to manufacture.

Imagine if you could save these panels from the recycle bin. Imagine if you could improve the ROI of your operation. Imagine if you had access to the world’s best practitioners of cold spray for aerospace components.

Is Cold Spray Always The Answer For Aircraft Skin Repair?

No, not always. Cold spray can be technically challenging. There is a considerable amount of tribal knowledge, craftsmanship, and artisanship that can only come from experience.

But with cold spray in your aircraft skin panel repair arsenal, you can maintain your parts inventory and reduce your turnaround times. You can save money on your maintenance budget, and when you partner with an industry expert like the crew at Mid-America Aerotech, you can solve your problems in the most efficient way possible.

Want to keep reading about cold spray case studies and how this innovative thermal bonding process is used? Make sure to stay tuned to our blogs!

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