The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center's Aviation Development Directorate is leading an effort to develop a new centerline engine for Apache and Black Hawk helicopters.
This isn’t really news as the Advanced Affordable Turbine Engine program has been underway for about eight years. However, recent advancements and grants awarded to both General Electric and Advanced Turbine Engine Company (a joint venture between Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney) now has the project for the 3,000-horsepower engines moving into the demonstrator program phase.
Developments for the new engine focus on three primary objectives:
- A 25% improvement in Specific Fuel Consumption (SFC), which exceeds commercial airline standards by about 15%.
- Improving the horsepower to weight ratio by 65%. Current demonstrations have reached the 50% mark.
- A 35% reduction in life cycle costs. Firms are focused on the use of advanced inlet particle separation technologies, erosion resistant coatings and ruggedized blades to meet this mark.
These goals will aid in reducing operating costs, including maintenance resources, and improving performance by increasing flying range and payload capabilities.
Some of the technologies put in play by GE include advanced aerodynamic design tools to optimize engine component efficiency, advanced materials like lightweight Ceramic Matrix Composites that can withstand higher temperatures, and 3D printing in producing multi-part assemblies as a single part. The materials associated with 3D printing also weigh less, which reduces engine weight.
These advancements have the next Army helicopter engine platform ready to enter the technology maturation and risk reduction phase of the Pentagon's acquisition framework. That might not sound like a big deal, but when this is your road map and you’re finally somewhere about here – that’s kind of a big deal.