The U.S. Air Force Looks To Advanced Manufacturing To Keep Existing Aircraft Flying And Develop Next-Gen Capabilities
What if there were Olympic events that weren’t physical, but were focused instead on completely geeking out on super-cool breakthrough technologies for real-world aerospace and defense challenges? Even better, what if they offered prize money totaling nearly a million dollars?
Now there are just such events, thanks to the U.S. Air Force’s Rapid Sustainment Office (RSO). In fact, participants in five such Olympic “sports” (or Technical Challenges, as the RSO calls them) have already been competing over the past few months. Those competitions will culminate when the winners are announced during next week’s four-day Advanced Manufacturing Olympics. This virtual conference runs from October 20-23, and features technology demonstrations, expert speakers from both industry and the military, virtual networking opportunities, and the awarding of prized for those Technical Challenges mentioned above.
“RSO is working to revolutionize sustainment, while building an agile supply chain for the future,” said Nathan Parker, Deputy Program Executive Officer at the RSO. “Originally, we were planning to hold this inaugural event outside Salt Lake City, Utah. But then Covid hit, so we’ve taken the whole thing virtual.”
Event speakers will include military officials such as Barbara M. Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force; General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Air Force; and General John W. Raymond, Chief of Space Operations of the U.S. Space Force. Other speakers featured are Sebastian Thrun, founder of Google X; Dr. Mae Jemison, NASA astronaut; and Brad Kesolowski, NASCAR Cup Series driver and founder of Kesolowski Advanced Manufacturing.
The five Technical Challenges began with an
WASHINGTON — For the first time, the U.S. Air Force updated the software code on one of its aircraft while it was in flight, the service announced Oct. 7.
And there’s a surprise twist: The aircraft involved wasn’t the “flying computer” F-35, the mysterious B-21 bomber still under development, or any of the Air Force’s newest and most high-tech jets. Instead, the service tested the technology aboard the U-2 spy plane, one of the oldest and most iconic aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory.
On Sept. 22, the U-2 Federal Laboratory successfully updated the software of a U-2 from the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, which was engaged in a training flight near Beale Air Force Base, California, the Air Force said in a news release.
To push the software code from the developer on the ground to the U-2 in flight, the Air Force used Kubernetes, a containerized system that allows users to automate the deployment and management of software applications. The technology was originally created by Google and is currently maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.
For the demonstration, the U-2 lab employed Kubernetes to “run advanced machine-learning algorithms” to the four flight-certified computers onboard the U-2, modifying the software without negatively affecting the aircraft’s flight or mission systems, the service said.
“The successful combination of the U-2′s legacy computer system with the modern Kubernetes software was a critical milestone for the development of software containerization on existing Air Force weapon systems,” said Nicolas Chaillan, the Air Force’s chief software officer.
During a Sept. 15 interview with C4ISRNET, Chaillan hinted that the service would soon be able to update the software of flying aircraft, calling the capability a “gamechanger” and describing the challenges involved with ensuring the aircraft could be updated without posing a safety risk.
“We need to