In the News

NIAR central to Air Force plans for F-16 longevity.

Wichita Business Journal | Daniel McCoy

The U.S. Air Force is turning once again to Wichita for help in long-term sustainment of its aircraft.

The National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University has won $27 million, paid over two years, on a four-year contract to create a digital twin of the F-16 fighter jet.

According to a press release from the service, data collected from the project will be used to prolong the effective life of the F-16 and safe on sustainment costs.

It also includes creating an adjustable 3D model of the jet.

“Our goal is to create a full-scale 3D model of the aircraft, with the exception of the engine,” says 1st Lt. Conner Crandall, digital twin program manager with the F-16 program office. “The data will be used to help address future parts obsolescence and mitigate supply chain risks because we won’t have to rely on legacy manufacturing sources and processes. We’ll have the 3D models and designs we can send to the manufacturers we choose.”

Two of the Air Force's Lockheed Martin Corp.-built F-16s will be disassembled and shipped to Wichita, with both arriving at NIAR by the end of September.

The research institute will also create 3D models of some of the systems on the aircraft, including environmental control and hydraulics.

“Wichita State’s partnership with the F-16 SPO (system program office) and Lockheed Martin supports sustainment efforts for weapons systems, like the F-16C, that will immediately impact preparedness of the warfighter,” says John Tomblin, senior vice president for industry and defense at the university. “In addition, these programs provide applied learning opportunities for Wichita State graduate and undergraduate students, which, in turn, allows the military to grow its future workforce.”

The project could also mean work in the future for Wichita aerospace suppliers, as Tomblin has previously said one of the goals of drawing increased defense attention to WSU is to also raise the profile of local production opportunities for the military once the research work is complete.

“If we can crack the code of opening this up to making more of these legacy parts … that opens up the entire Wichita supply base,” he told the WBJ in 2019.

NIAR, with a big assist from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), has been drawing much of that attention to town in recent years — and winning contracts after defense officials see its capabilities.

Defense research awards to WSU increased around 350% to $54 million from fiscal years 2018 to 2019.