Heather Wilson and Col. Kevin Kennedy sign a partnership agreement Thursday morning at the University Center Rapid City campus. 

A new agreement between the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and Ellsworth Air Force Base to repair and refurbish B-1 Bomber parts has already saved the military a half million dollars and returned four aircraft to service, according to the Air Force and school officials.

The new technology developed by a professor at Mines referred to as "cold spray" is helping repair 30-year-old B-1 parts that are no longer manufactured.

Cold spray technology refurbishments have the potential to save the military hundreds of millions of dollars over the long term, according to officials with the Air Force and Mines.

Another $2.5 million could be saved this year just on the B-1s at Ellsworth, according to officials with the base. 

Thursday morning, Mines president Heather Wilson and Col. Kevin Kennedy, commander of the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth, signed the memorandum of understanding to formalize their agreement to work together on several projects including the refurbishing of the bombers. 

Wilson, a 1982 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and a former Air Force officer, joked during the signing event at the University Center-Rapid City that Kennedy was still using the preferred ink color of the USAF — black, but she had been able to break away from that habit and use blue. 

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Kennedy said this agreement will benefit both Ellsworth and Mines tremendously.

“This memorandum provides a way for Ellsworth AFB and the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology to work together in finding innovative, aviation specific applications for emerging technologies," Kennedy said in a press release. "Innovation is in every airman’s DNA. The students and faculty at Mines are known as some of the more outside-the-box thinkers in our community. This was a natural partnership that will benefit our wing and Mines students."

Cold spray technology is similar to welding, but it does not damage the metal that it is used on. It can deposit a wide variety of metal powders to create high-performance coatings on diverse materials without overheating them.

Christian Widener, an associate professor who is also director of both the university’s Repair, Refurbish and Return to Service Center and the Arbegast Materials Processing and Joining Laboratory, leads the development of the cold spray technology at Mines.

This agreement allows Widener and his team to take the technology from the lab to the real world.

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Contact Jennifer Naylor Gesick at 394-8415 or jennifer.naylorgesick@rapidcityjournal.com.

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