The Air Force award to Vector Composites, a Dayton, Ohio, based advanced composites fabricator and Australian partner Quickstep, consists of a US$2.6 million base contract and potential US$1.4 million follow-on option (US$4 million total programme) .

Material handling, preparation and fabrication of all test articles and prototypes will be conducted at the Vector facility and will be subsequently cured at Quickstep’s US subsidiary, Quickstep Composites LLC, located in an adjacent facility in Dayton.

The research will focus on process qualification of bismaleimide (BMI) and epoxy resin composite materials using the Quickstep process. These two materials constitute the majority of the advanced structural composites used in the Joint Strike Fighter and have an extensive design database.

The contract, planned for 27 months, will develop mechanical properties data for comparison to the baseline autoclave results, as well as fabricate and test representative components based on the JSF design.

Industrial partners supporting the contract include Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and ITT Integrated Structures. At the conclusion of the contract, any or all of these companies can elect to pursue full qualification of the process for use in production.

Chief Executive of Quickstep, Philippe Odouard, says the Air Force’s decision to proceed with the Phase II award and the high level of funding awarded represent an important step in Quickstep’s two-pronged strategy to win manufacturing contracts for JSF.

“Quickstep has been actively working on two fronts to secure JSF manufacturing business,” says Odouard. “This grant supports our founding strategy, which is to promote the patented Quickstep Process as a viable new technology for the manufacture of high performance composites such as those required for JSF components. Our parallel and complementary strategy targets specialist manufacturing contracts that can be completed at our manufacturing facility near Fremantle using traditional composites manufacturing techniques such as autoclave.”

“Quickstep has already enjoyed some success in targeting traditional manufacturing contracts for JSF – as demonstrated by the recent Memorandums of Understanding signed with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Marand, and this significant teaming with Vector under the Air Force contract now indicates that we are also proceeding well with promoting our proprietary technology,” he adds.

Vector Vice President and General Manager Tim Brocklehurst, says: “The SBIR Phase II award to Vector launches Vector down the path to become a key supplier for advance composite applications for aerospace applications. We are pleased to be working with Quickstep and its 'rapid cure' technology on this programme. Through the demonstrated success of Vector’s Phase I SBIR contract we worked with Quickstep to demonstrate the viability of this technology. The potential for cost reduction has been realised in our previous work with Quickstep. The outcome of the Phase II SBIR offers great potential to position both companies for growth while providing a means for low cost manufacturing of advanced materials. The programme efforts for the Air Force Phase II programme will push Vector toward becoming a certified supplier for the F35 programme and will open the doors to other emerging markets."