Jimmy Kenyon Discusses 'What's Next' for Propulsion
Every year, the Air Force Association holds its Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, to bring together Air Force and industry leaders to discuss the issues and challenges facing today's airmen.
Among those present at last week's symposium were members of the Pratt & Whitney Military Engines leadership and business development teams, on a mission to meet with customers to better understand their needs.
The topic of propulsion was front and center during one of the panel discussions for the conference. Jimmy Kenyon, executive director, Advanced Programs and Technology, Pratt & Whitney, was joined by representatives from Rolls-Royce, GE Aviation, and the IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute, to discuss what's next on the horizon for the Air Force, particularly with regard to emerging propulsion technologies.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak on today's panel and offer Pratt & Whitney's perspective on "what's next." This panel is particularly timely as the last few years have been hallmark years for Pratt & Whitney, propulsion, and aviation.
In the last two years, Pratt & Whitney has entered service with two models of our Geared Turbofan family of commercial engines, on Airbus' A320neo and on Bombardier's C Series aircraft. These engines are delivering a more than 15 percent improvement in fuel burn, while also significantly reducing noise.
The GTF is an architectural breakthrough enabled by innovation in gear technology. However, it's more than "just" the gear; our GTF also draws on advancements in fundamental propulsion technologies such as 3D aerodynamics, high temperature materials, and a number of other innovations that drive efficiency and performance.
At the same time and more to the point here at AFA, we're proud to be building on the long history we have powering the U.S. Air Force, having achieved Initial Operating Capability on the F-35A with the Air Force last year, following IOC on the F-35B with the Marine Corps in 2015. The F135 is the world's most powerful fighter engine, reliably delivering more than 40 thousand pounds of thrust to the 5th Generation F-35 Lightning II.
I don't think it's a surprise to this audience, but the F-35 Lightning II is performing exceptionally well. For example, media coverage has talked about the F-35's eye-watering 20:1 kill ratio during Red Flag. Of course, it's the stealth and sensor fusion that you may have read about, and those attributes do deserve attention for the formidable capability they brought, but the F135 delivered the aircraft to the fight every time.
Right now we're ramping up production on the Geared Turbofan and on the F135 engines, and we look forward to seeing them in service for years to come.
So looking ahead, what's next? It's hard to believe there could be more right now, but there is … a lot more!
I'll start with the F135. While the current production engine meets or exceeds all today's propulsion performance specifications, we are already looking ahead at how we can continue to improve the F135 for future needs.
Right now we're maturing a suite of technologies to enhance the capabilities of the engine with reduced fuel burn, increased thrust, and improved durability. We plan to test an F135 incorporating these technologies in the spring, so they'll be ready to transition into qualification to support future block upgrades. The Navy is supporting the test this spring, but the technologies are applicable to all variants of the F135.
We have experience doing this sort of thing. Many of you are familiar with the F100 and have seen it grow in capability over its decades of service. We see a very similar path for the F135 ahead.
Along a parallel and complimentary path, we're also proud to be working on one of the Air Force's top propulsion priorities – the Adaptive Engine Transition Program, or AETP.
We think adaptive engines will be a critical enabler for virtually all future combat aircraft. After all, we've seen firsthand what they can do. Our experience at Pratt & Whitney goes back to the first adaptive engine, the J58, which powered the iconic SR-71 Blackbird. The J58 took the Blackbird from takeoff to more than Mach 3, transitioning seamlessly from a conventional turbofan mode to more of a turbo-ramjet.
Today, the F135 engine in the F-35B STOVL aircraft transitions smoothly from up and away flight to vertical landing, engaging the lift system and controlling multiple streams of air through the lift fan and roll posts to enable a smooth touchdown.
Looking ahead, AETP is taking a major step forward, allowing a fighter to adapt its performance across the flight envelope for greater range and acceleration while also providing for better power and cooling.
We're wrapping up major tests this year on the Adaptive Engine Technology Development, or AETD, program, which is the predecessor for AETP, and in parallel have launched into AETP. It's going to be an exciting year, and an exciting few years to come!
So what's beyond AETP? Well, we're thinking about that too, and we're working with AFRL to define what the future looks like. But here are some thoughts …
First off, we think AETP is just the beginning for adaptive engines. Conventional turbofan engines use two streams of air, but AETP uses a third stream that can be modulated to adapt the engine's performance. We see other ways to adapt an engine's performance as well, dramatically opening the design space for a wide range of needs and capabilities.
We're working on improving integrated power and thermal capacity, which builds naturally on adaptive engines. More power and greater thermal capacity will be critical for future combat aircraft to enable more sensor and data fusion, electronic warfare, and even directed energy. But we also see opportunities for more electric and even hybrid-electric propulsion and power architectures.
We're looking at small engines. Small engines power aircraft and munitions of many shapes and sizes, and we've seen a growing call for lower cost solutions, including for example the Low Cost Attritable Aircraft concept. We see some real opportunities there to not only bend the cost curve, but break it.
And we're looking at novel concepts such as distributed propulsion that can change the way you look at aircraft design.
It really is an exciting time to be in the propulsion industry. We're delivering great new capability today, working on the next generation of propulsion through programs like AETP, and starting to work on concepts that will define the future of aviation. So what's next? Quite a lot!