The U.S. Air Force awarded contracts of nearly $1 billion each to GE Aviation and Pratt and Whitney to further develop a next-generation military jet engine under the Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP). The service envisions the new engine powering a sixth-generation fighter and potentially an upgraded F-35 Lightning II.
In dual contract announcements on June 30, the Department of Defense (DOD) said GE Aviation was awarded $919.5 million and Pratt & Whitney $873 million to design, build and test “multiple complete, flight-weight centerline, 45,000-pounds thrust turbofan adaptive engines.” The contracts, overseen by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, call for completing work by Sept. 30, 2021. When including a priced option, both contracts exceed $1 billion.
Current, fixed-cycle engines powering military jets are optimized for either maximum power or fuel efficiency. GE said its three-stream adaptive cycle AETP engine can transition from a high-bypass, fuel efficient engine similar to engines used on tankers and transports to a low-bypass, high-performance engine required for fighters. In addition to the adaptive feature, a “third stream” of airflow can be used to improve fuel efficiency or further increase thrust.
The AETP program evolved from the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology effort begun in 2007 and involving engine manufacturers GE Aviation and Rolls-Royce North America, to the follow-on Adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) program awarded to GE Aviation and Pratt and Whitney in 2012.
GE laid claim to testing the first full adaptive-cycle, three-stream engine in 2014, and it completed an AETD preliminary design review in March 2015. The manufacturer said its engine design extends aircraft operating range by more than 30 percent, improves fuel consumption by 25 percent and increases thrust by more than 10 percent.
GE Aviation provided this image of its Adaptive Engine Technology Development engine, precursor to the AETP program.