ANAHEIM, CALIF. - Declining government funding commitments, soon-fading military specifications and hopes for an all-composite airframe were topics discussed at the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering meeting March 26 in Anaheim. In discussing the composite airframe initiative, consultant George Peterson said, ``The keys are: no fasteners, reduce cycle times, little or no inspection and take assembly out of the process. Use fabrication.'' He retired as director of the Materials Director-ate at Wright Laboratories at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Peterson said the concept is at a crossroads. His vision calls for ``revolutionary design and manufacturing concepts'' that would bring reductions in cost and weight. ``You must get the designer involved up front. It's different than metal,'' he said.
Six major defense contractors and three Wright Laboratory directorates participate in the initiative. On the funding front, industry hopes for funding of advanced composite developments appear dim.
J. Michael Bowman, vice president and general manager of DuPont Co.'s Advanced Material Sys-tems, said in-dustry continues to pursue the programs but finds little support.
Industry consultant Jon De-Vault said, ``The job is only half done'' with the Advanced Re-search Projects Agency ``out of structural materials in new projects."
Until October, DeVault was program manager in ARPA's defense science office and responsible for an affordable-composite-structures initiative that began in 1993.He said polymer matrix composites are an ``accepted engineering material'' but have ``missed the boat on affordability.''
The affordable-composites-for-propulsion ARPA project continues to receive funding, Rick Holman, project manager for Pratt & Whitney, said in a March 27 telephone interview from West Palm Beach, Fla.
In January, the project completed a preliminary design review of six key composite components for an advanced ducted prop engine. Pratt & Whitney, which heads the project and is responsible for integration, is a unit of United Technologies Corp.
Budget decisions produce mixed results. The Materials Directorate, for example, has maintained its operating budget but has fallen behind on staffing, according to the current director, Vincent Russo.
``We haven't hired a person in six or seven years,'' Russo said in his keynote address. ``Senior people go out the door, you don't bring any new ones in, and the guys in the middle don't get promoted because of Defense Department restrictions on high-grade promotions.''
Russo's answer to that problem ``is a concept we call GOCA, for government-operated, contractor-assisted.'' Now, 350 of 700 persons at the directorate ``are government contractors or intergovernment personnel or visiting scientists. I have 170 Ph.Ds who work for contractors.''
He encourages companies to loan scientists. ``We'll house them. We give them research. We'll take care of the equipment. We'll pay for supplies. All they have to do is pay the salary.''
Eliminating milspecs is a major concern. ``It is killing us,'' Russo said. Defense Secretary William Perry directed the military to use industrial specifications, but questions on implementation abound.
``Doing away with military specifications in the materials area is going to really cause us a lot of concern,'' Russo said. ``It is not only a cost concern, but it is going to be a quality concern.'' Cutting back on specs is finding its way into some programs such as the F-22, a military contact said, and the effort is called the lightning bolt initiative.
``We spend a lot of time worrying about what's the cost implication of doing away with these specs,'' Russo said. ``Most people in industry tell us costs will go down, but we haven't seen any of that yet.''