Jet Coatings Honored for Sustainability


A novel lightweight, longer-lasting aircraft coating system has drawn top honors from the Department of Defense, which plans to use it on a new generation of stealth jets.

The 2014 Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards, announced Monday (April 21), honored the system being tested for the F-35 Lightning II aircraft. The coating not only reduces aircraft weight, but also cuts more than 50 percent of the paint/paint-removal waste stream, according to DoD.

Behind the effort is the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center F-35 Environmental, Safety and Occupational Health (ESOH) Support Team at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. DoD presented the team with its "Environmental Excellence in Weapon Systems Acquisition" award.

Since 1962, the annual awards have honored individuals, teams and installations for outstanding achievements in environmental performance. The 2014 awards recognize achievements in the FY 2012-13 cycle (Oct. 1, 2011, through Sept. 30, 2013).

Reductions All Around

The F-35 is being manufactured by Lockheed Martin to replace aging fighter inventories. The F-35 Lightning II Weapon System is the DoD's focal point for defining an affordable next-generation strike aircraft system weapon system to meet an advanced threat, while improving lethality, survivability and supportability.

The novel, all-in-one corrosion-resistant coating incorporates a different filler material, allowing the traditional coating system's top two layers (the flexible primer and topcoat) to be eliminated. Additionally, the alternate coating contains no hexavalent chromium.

The team reduced coating weight to cut down the overall weight of the aircraft, which results in reduced fuel consumption and lower air emissions. The reduction also eliminated 21 pounds of Hazardous Air Pollutant emissions and 17 pounds of VOCs per aircraft during the painting process, while maintaining the required coating corrosion resistance properties, officials said.

$1 Billion Lifetime Savings

With the new coatings, the aircraft's refresh cycle can be extended by several years, reducing the paint waste stream by over 50 percent and slashing maintenance labor hours and aircraft down time.

The team says the alternate coating system could shave the manufacturing process for an F-35 by four days, trimming production costs by $435 million and saving $1.07 billion in operations and sustainment costs over the life cycle of the Joint Strike Fighter Program.

Secretary of Defense Awards

The ESOH support team includes (from left) Andy Ghazee, Arnold Godsey, Thomas McDonald, David Walker and Jeff McCann. Not pictured: Thomas Lorman and Jim Ryckman.

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the team's "remarkable achievements exemplify the department's continued commitment to sustain mission readiness while cost-effectively addressing environmental issues, thereby increasing efficiencies and supporting the quality of life for service members, their families, and local communities."

Investing in the Environment

DoD has invested about $42 billion over the last decade to ensure the success of its environmental programs, the agency says.

In fiscal year 2012, DoD spent $4.1 billion for its environmental programs: $2 billion for environmental restoration activities, $1.9 billion for environmental quality activities, and $213.6 million for environmental technology.

Environmental Excellence in Weapon Systems Acquisition, Large Program, is the newest award of the six subject areas, and recognizes efforts to incorporate environment, safety and occupational health requirements into a large weapon system acquisition program's engineering, contracting and decision-making processes.

The DoD classifies a "Large Program" as one with an estimated expenditure of more than $480 million in research, development, test and evaluation funding, or procurement funding of more than $2.79 billion.

Mitigating Safety Risks

In the past, aircraft platforms have heavily relied on personal protective equipment as a primary method of mitigating system safety risks, according to the team's project award submission. The Alternative Outer Mold Line (AMOL) coating system was developed to reduce reliance on PPE and lessen the impact on the environment.

stealth jet coatings

The coating system was tested on an F-16 (shown here). The traditional system was applied to the pilot's left half of the aircraft; the new coatings, to the right side.

The team performed a field service evaluation of the AOML coating and a traditional aircraft topcoat side-by-side on an F-16 aircraft. At the time the project was submitted, the team reported 44 months with no significant degradation in the AOML coating condition.

Currently, the team is working on an extended-life version of the AOML coating. The next step will be to develop a hexavalent chromium-free conversion coating that is compatible with the AOML coating, which would give the F-35 a totally non-chrome coating system.

The team is also continuing to work on reducing chromium and cadmium in related coatings and sealants. Recently, the team funded a project to identify non-chromated fuel tank coatings that could replace current materials on several weapon systems. This project is being tested on an F-16.

An International Platform

F-35 aircraft will be operated by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and the United Kingdom Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. Other international partners include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Turkey.

Because the weapon system will be sold to European Union nations, the program not only has to address United States regulations and DoD policies, but also Registration, Evaluation, Authorization & Restrictions of Chemical Substances (REACH). REACH aims to ensure appropriate safety and toxicity data is obtained for about 30,000 chemicals in the EU.

Although the AOML coating system was developed specifically for the F-35 program, other weapon systems could reap its benefits, according to the project team. The F-16 program is currently working on similar coatings based on the results of the AOML system.

Prioritizing Pollution Prevention

Additionally, the ESOH support team formed a Weapon System Pollution Prevention Working Group in fiscal year 2012 to identify and prioritize projects that reduce environmental, safety and health risks and costs for a range of aircraft.


F-35s will be operated in the U.S. and sold to European Union nations, so the team had to not only address domestic regulations, but also standards set by REACH.

Since its inception, the group has managed five projects designed to reduce hexavalent chromium risks and costs for a range of aircraft during both production and sustainment/maintenance processes.

The group has also developed easily accessible environmental, safety and health resource tools on a website for all weapon system program offices.

Other Projects Honored

Nine project winners were chosen from 33 nominations. The other eight winners were:

  • Natural Resources Conservation, Small Installation: Marine Corps Base Hawaii for demonstrating innovative use of limited funding to protect the environment while accomplishing their mission;
  • Natural Resources Conservation, Individual/Team: Eglin Air Force Base, FL, Natural Resources Team for its long-range solutions to ensure regulatory compliance while maximizing the use of land and water ranges to maintain mission readiness;
  • Environmental Quality, Non-Industrial Installation: Fort Hood, TX, for leading the way in environmental quality innovation and proactive community interaction, paternerships and training;
  • Sustainability, Industrial Installation: Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, CA, for exceeding goals in energy reduction, water conservation, recycling, eliminating hazardous waste, and implementing low-impact development projects;
  • Cultral Resources Management, Installation: Fort Wainwright, Alaska, for ensuring its lands remain available and in good condition to support its mission and also preserve its cultural history.

The DoD recognizes each winner with a trophy, a Secretary of Defense certificate of achievement and an American flag that is flown over the U.S. Capitol by their senior Senator on Earth Day and over the Pentagon on Memorial Day.

Details for all project submissions and winners can be found here.


Tagged categories: Awards and honors; Coating chemistry; Coating Materials; Department of Defense (DOD); Environmental Protection; Government; Regulations; U.S. Air Force

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