News Releases

Mines research refurbishing bombers at Ellsworth Air Force Base
Release Date Thursday, March 27, 2014
RAPID CITY, S.D. (March 27, 2014) – The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and Ellsworth Air Force Base on Thursday signed an agreement formalizing a relationship for collaborative projects such as the application of a revolutionary research technology to refurbish aging bombers. The university’s partnership with Ellsworth has already helped return four B-1s to service and could save the military millions of dollars.
School of Mines faculty researchers in connection with the Army Research Lab have developed a patent-pending process using “cold spray” technology to deposit aluminum powder in worn and damaged areas of aircraft panels, machining them back to their original dimensions, and returning the bombers to full service. Prior to this research, panels were nearly impossible to replace without extreme cost and time, as the original equipment manufacturer no longer produces the nearly 30-year-old aircraft components.

“The research Mines has done already on cold spray technology has saved the Air Force over half a million dollars. We want to continue to work together to advance technologies that lower maintenance costs and keep aircraft available to fly,” said School of Mines President Heather Wilson.

Cold-spray technology refurbishments have the potential to save the military hundreds of millions of dollars over the long term. With proper approvals, another $2.5 million could be saved this year alone on the B-1s at Ellsworth.

Wilson, a 1982 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and a former Air Force officer, signed the memorandum of understanding with Col. Kevin Kennedy, commander of the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth.

“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. 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,” Kennedy said.

An emerging new technology, cold spray is capable of depositing a wide variety of metal powders to create high-performance coatings on diverse materials without overheating them. Research being conducted at the School of Mines is applicable throughout the Department of Defense for similar repairs on other weapon systems, and also has broad commercial applications.

Christian Widener, Ph.D., 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. He noted the agreement provides an important framework to allow the university to support the Air Force base by transitioning its research from the laboratory and applying it to real-world issues.

The collaborative approach also provides beneficial hands-on problem-solving opportunities for Mines students. Brian James, a School of Mines doctoral student who has worked with Widener on the research, is an Air Force Engineering and Technical Services representative at Ellsworth.


About SDSM&T
Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,640 students from 45 states and 37 countries, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. The average starting salary for graduates is $62,400 with a 98 percent placement rate. Find us online at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at