If a brief intermission is taken from talking about the future — in engine programs Future Vertical Lift (FVL) and Future Affordable Turbine Engine (FATE) — a quick look to the past will serve as a reminder of the slow-but-sure evolution of research and development.
Two companies made headlines this week that have been heavily involved in military initiatives for the past five years and beyond: GE Aviation and the Advanced Turbine Engine Company (ATEC).
Boeing AH-64 Apache. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army
In May 2012, Robert W. Moorman outlined in R&WI's "Investing in the Future" the fact that funding for research and development for future military rotorcraft was diminishing, despite the need to update fleets. At that time, the Defense Dept. had not yet released the FVL Strategic Plan, and the U.S. Army's Advanced Affordable Turbine Engine (AATE) program still had two years to go before it would see culmination.
In fact, GE was working on two demonstrator engines in 2012: one for AATE to replace engines on Boeing AH-64s and Sikorsky UH-60s and one for Army program FATE. The previous year, the Army awarded GE a five-year, $45 million cost-share contract for its FATE engine, with the program aiming to cultivate the design of a 5,000- to 10,000-shp class turboshaft engine that would be applicable to existing aircraft and have FVL capabilities. At the time of the article, this engine was theoretical. But as of this past Monday, that engine has entered the testing phase.
According to a company news release, this first full engine test followed the completion of FATE compressor combustor and turbine rig tests in 2015. The compressor rig recorded the highest single-spool compressor pressure ratio in GE Aviation's history. The engine is designed to achieve 35% reduction in specific fuel consumption, 80% improvement in power-to-weight, 20% improvement in design life and 45% reduction in production and maintenance costs relative to currently fielded engines.
Moorman noted in the article that ATEC was also submitting an engine — the HPW3000 — for AATE, for which the Army awarded it a $180 million contract in 2008. This past Tuesday, the Pratt & Whitney-Honeywell joint venture said it won a contract through the Army's Alternate Concept Engine program (ACE). ATEC is building upon the successful AATE demonstration of the HPW3000, and the new development could power the Pentagon’s FVL initiative.
According to a company news release, ATEC will demonstrate advanced variable speed turbine capabilities, among other advanced technologies, in a demonstrator engine test. The ACE program, a science and technology effort with the goal of cultivating engines that can improve Army Aviation rotorcraft, also aims to reduce operational and lifecycle costs and the logistical footprint.
In 2012, AATE was on its last legs and all other programs and initiatives were barely in tangible existence. But GE and ATEC are continuing to develop engines to fly tomorrow's rotorcraft as the military invests in upgrades.