McConnell instructor 3D prints jet engine models

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brenden Beezley
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing

A McConnell instructor 3D printed jet engines at home, allowing his students to bridge the gap from textbooks to real life with hands on training.

Technical Sgt. Shane Wofford, 373rd Training Squadron Detachment 8 propulsion instructor, is changing the way current and future maintenance Airmen train and learn with his homemade 3D printed engines.

Wofford became a technical school instructor in 2019, transitioning from his job as a KC-135 Stratotanker aerospace propulsion technician here.

As Wofford became familiar with his new instructor role, he began thinking about how the training could be better.

He noticed that while the courses had a bunch of written material and some visual representations of the course material, there weren’t any physical training aids to use in the classroom.

After realizing this shortcoming in the courses, he pondered potential solutions, ultimately landing on 3D printing training materials to help bridge the gap in understanding from textbooks and technical orders to a real engine.

“Within the first year of being here, I printed my first 3D training aid,” said Wofford. “After that I got to see its value in the classroom, I got student feedback, instructor feedback, and looked at my own observations as far as what I liked about it. I began thinking, if me making this thing makes teaching this concept easier, what other things can I make to help teach other concepts?”

Over the next three years, Wofford continued making new training aids. The projects not only grew in frequency over time, but also in scale.

While attending Noncommissioned Officer Academy in May 2022, Wofford completed a group project where they worked on increasing the scale of his current largest turbofan engine model. They didn’t make the large model during the project but instead worked through how logistically Wofford could go about it.

After returning from NCOA and sitting on the idea for a month or two, Wofford decided to make his plans a reality.

He created his large turbofan engine model using three printers for three months and more than 10 pounds of filament. The model is more than five feet long and is used as a visual aid and physical training tool.

After the creation of his newest model, he brought it straight into the classroom where he began successfully implementing it into the current curriculums.

“In the class we used [the model] to see what the inside of an engine looks like,” said Staff Sgt. Allen Allie, 722nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance journeyman. “It was super useful. While a TO is nice, I’m more of a hands on learner, and actually getting to feel around and see what the instructor is talking about definitely gives you a better idea of what you’re working with.”

Now that Wofford and the rest of Detachment 8 have seen the feasibility and benefits of using 3D printed models in the classroom, the next step is spreading this across the 373rd TRS, and the rest of the Air Force, said Wofford.

Wofford also said that an advantage of establishing actual policies and contracting out the creation of large-scale models would be the ability to create models specific to the particular aircraft that each detachment trains their students on.

Currently, Wofford has created a general propulsion engine model, which helps teach the engine’s basic layout for both the KC-135 and KC-46. By having the specific engine, the training opportunities would be even further increased.

“The training aids we have are far reaching,” said Wofford. “It is geared more towards a propulsion technician, or jet engine mechanic, but crew chiefs definitely get value from it, you can talk about servicing, and overall constructional features like when we teach our supervisor familiarization classes when we have Senior NCOs and officers come in, they can see what a basic turbo engine looks like, which is a requirement in their class. We have six or seven [career fields] here and without looking too hard you can see how they would all benefit from this training aid, and at least half of them have.”