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A new journey in RAF Engineering

Image of Chief of the Air Staff holding engineering components.

The future of RAF Engineering began with the creation of the Hilda B Hewlett Centre for Innovation by No 71 Inspection & Repair (IR) Squadron.

Equipped with world-leading 3D printing and scanning equipment, the opening of the new centre marks the Royal Air Force’s first steps into advanced component manufacturing. 3D printing, properly known as additive manufacturing, is the layer-by-layer construction of a three-dimensional object from a digital 3D model.

Image shows two civilians by a sign for the Hilda B Hewlett Centre.

Introduced by No 71 (IR) Squadron, additive manufacturing is a brand-new ability for the Royal Air Force and could provide a breakthrough in the RAF’s ability to design and produce its own aircraft spares on demand. The project was begun by Squadron Leader Hayward in 2020, then officer commanding of No 71 (IR) Squadron.

Image shows civilians standing for picture.

A Wayland Additive Calibur3 3D printer is at the cutting edge in additive manufacturing technology and the RAF will be the first customer in the world to operate one. There is also a Nikon HTX 540 CT scanner, which can examine objects in minute detail. Renishaw’s RenAM 500 metal printer and a Stratasys Fortus 450 polymer printer provide reliable 3D printing capabilities which perfectly complement the Wayland and Nikon machines.

One day the Royal Air Force could manufacture custom-built structural aircraft components for rapid aircraft repairs. This technology has endless possibilities in supporting and delivering air power  and the opening of this facility is a landmark in this exciting journey.

Squadron Leader Auchterlonie
Officer Commanding No 71 (IR) Squadron

71 (IR) Squadron is part of the RAF A4 Force. Its principal roles are to repair damaged structure on UK fixed-wing military aircraft and provide specialist inspection capabilities to RAF aircraft wherever they are deployed. The Squadron also has its own designers, who devise repair solutions in circumstances where conventional fixes may not be effective or available.

Image shows two civilians in a lab setting.

Working in metal or polymer, the new equipment can reproduce aircraft components with microscopic accuracy and precision.  Before any manufactured component can be fitted to an aircraft, however, months of rigorous testing lies ahead with every imaginable aspect of the additive manufacture process examined in scientific detail.

Image shows metal aircraft components on a table.

The centre was formally opened by Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff. Sir Mike noted that ‘success has many parents’ and praised the combined efforts of 71 (IR) Squadron, the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office and Project ASTRA in bringing ‘Project Warhol’ as it is known, to life.

Helen Close, Heritage Officer for the Women’s Engineering Society, spoke about the life of Hilda B. Hewlett. The first British woman to hold a pilot’s licence, she led the development of aircraft technologies as a manufacturer of military planes in World War One.

Hilda B Hewlett was unquestionably a pioneering visionary, who embodied courage and a spirit of innovation. It is because of this, that we have proudly named our new facility after her.

Squadron Leader Auchterlonie
Officer Commanding No 71 (IR) Squadron

Black and white image shows a portrait of Hilda Hewlett.
Hilda Hewlett.

The Hilda B Hewlett Centre for Innovation has a modern feel. No 71 (IR) Squadron’s engineers will work closely with its delivery partners from Wayland Additive, Nikon, Renishaw and Stratasys to understand how 3D printing technology can be developed into a functioning military capability.

Additive manufacturing offers us enormous potential to repair and modify our aircraft quicker than ever before. Introducing any new capability into the RAF is a serious undertaking and the team at 71 Squadron have gone about this with professionalism and almost obsessive diligence. This is a genuine milestone; a real achievement and I am proud that this project has been led by the A4 Force.

Group Captain Huntley
A4 Force Elements Commander

Image shows metal aircraft components on a table in the lab setting.

Read more about No 71 Inspection & Repair Squadron