July 09, 2012
GE Aviation sees plenty of fighter engine and technology demonstrator work keeping it busy in the wake of its loss of the F136 alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, on which it was paired with Rolls-Royce.
“We’ve moved on. We’re feeling good about where we are,” says Jean Lydon-Rodgers, VP and general manager for military systems at GE Aviation. “We have 25,000 combat and rotorcraft engines out there, and one focus for us now is to work an upgrade for every one of them.”
He adds that “another focus is next-generation engines” for the next U.S. fighter and bomber programs. These will involve new technology, especially variable-cycle “third airflow stream” architecture, and extensive use of ceramic matrix composites (CMC), which offer light weight and higher temperature resistance with less cooling than metal alloys.
“Some $600 million of commercial engine effort is directly applicable to our Advent [advanced U.S. Air Force demonstrator engine] in new materials, cooling, controls and manufacturing,” Lydon-Rodgers says. “CMCs are critical to combat aircraft capability in the long term.”
Regarding rotorcraft, GE Aviation on June 21 ran for the first time its advanced affordable turbine engine (AATE) technology demonstrator, which could become the T700 replacement and the basis for next-generation helicopters. GE is the incumbent on all Black Hawk and Apache helicopters with the T700 turboshaft.
GE also has won sudden popularity in the commercial helicopter market. It has typically taken a back seat in this segment, with the rugged, military-based T700 proving too expensive or heavy for civil applications. Now, a new focus on cost-of-ownership and a willingness to work in the civil market has led to wins with the AgustaWestland AW189 and Bell 525. The commercial version of the T700, the CT7-8, already powers the Sikorsky S-92 and International Black Hawk, though those are derivatives of military aircraft.
“Yes, it’s a resurgence in the civil market, especially for offshore missions,” Lydon-Rodgers says. “Bell’s customers said they wanted a GE engine, based on technology and reputation. AgustaWestland already has T700s in the AW149. Both came to us, gave us a target price, and we had to get the price in the box.”