General Electric Company
In 1971 the Army selected GE’s T700 engine to power its new utility helicopter, the UH-60 Black Hawk. Combat experience in Vietnam had demonstrated a need for more capable helicopters with more powerful engines featuring improved reliability, maintainability and fuel consumption. To meet this requirement, the Army embarked on an aggressive campaign to advance turboshaft engine technology. The Army’s initial goals included a 40% improvement in power to weight ratio, 25% lower specific fuel consumption, ease of maintenance and high reliability – all posing a serious challenge to industry.
In addition to meeting the Army’s daunting technical challenges for more power and better fuel consumption, the T700 introduced a revolutionary new modular design to simplify and speed field maintenance. Modular design allowed for easy field replacement of engine modules in order to return aircraft back to the fight more quickly. The engine was designed with maintainers in mind, and to this day, only ten common tools are required for field maintenance and most line replaceable units can be replaced in 15 minutes or less. Remarkable reductions in the number of engine parts combined with a simple design, an integral inlet particle separator, and much longer component lives significantly improved engine reliability. The early success of the T700 on the Black Hawk led to its selection for the new Apache attack helicopter as well.
The Army - GE collaboration has led to nearly four decades of tremendously reliable power for the Army’s Black Hawk and Apache helicopters. Army pilots benefit from an engine that is more reliable than many commercial airline engines, despite the harsh environments in which they operate. The ease of maintenance of T700’s modular design is proven in combat and across the harshest operational environments worldwide. In addition, modular design allows the Army to significantly reduce engine operating costs by using low-cost field module replacement to avoid expensive engine depot visits.
Recent combat experience confirms the need for significant improvements in the Army’s vertical lift capabilities. Improving today’s platforms or powering next generation aircraft means more power with better fuel economy, improved reliability and lower operating costs. The Army and GE are again working together in a series of science and technology development programs to ensure tomorrow’s Warfighters have the tactical edge needed to win on the battlefield. These programs, centered on the Army’s Advanced Affordable Turbine Engine (AATE) program and Future Affordable Turbine Engine (FATE) program will give Warfighters that edge.
Through the AATE and FATE programs, the Army and GE are leading the jet engine industry in the development of advanced technologies to power Army aircraft for decades into the future. The AATE program aims for a 65% better power to weight ratio in an engine that fits in the current Black Hawk and Apache engine nacelles. The program also calls for an ambitious 25% improvement in Specific Fuel Consumption (SFC) and 35% lower costs. The goal of a 25% improvement in SFC exceeds by a wide margin the 15 – 20% SFC improvements achieved in the commercial airline industry in engines that enter service in the next few years. Clearly, the Army and GE are driving the pace of change in the aviation industry.
The FATE program aims to develop a larger engine than the AATE program with even more determined objectives. Among these are an 85% improved power to weight ratio and a 35% SFC improvement. For both the AATE and FATE programs, GE is using a series of proven new technologies to meet Army objectives. Among these are GE’s advanced aerodynamic design tools to optimize engine component efficiencies as well as advanced materials such as Ceramic Matrix Composites that can withstand higher temperatures while weighing less than traditional metal alloys and Additive Manufacturing (3D printing). Additive manufacturing enables the production of complex multi-part assemblies as a single part. This generally reduces engine weight and improves reliability.
The new engines developed in these programs carry forward the hard lessons learned from the Army’s more than seven decades of helicopter operations. The rugged reliability and modular field maintainability of the T700 are crucial features that will improve future readiness and reduce costs. The Army and GE are advancing technology to combat the erosive effects of sand and dust to improve engine performance in harsh combat environments. The increasing complexity of the modern battlefield and modern cockpits are placing ever increasing demands on aircrews. GE’s next generation engines feature full authority digital electronic controls designed to reduce pilot workload to allow more focus on the fight. These features; past, present and future; will ensure the Army’s next generation of engines provides Warfighters a significant battlefield edge while giving maintainers the ability to easily maximize readiness at substantially reduced costs.