This week marks the 73rd birthday of the United States Air Force, as well as the Air Force Association’s (AFA) annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference, connecting defense and aerospace professionals from around the world.
GE Aviation’s history working with the Air Force dates back to the dawn of the jet age, when the U.S. military branch was established on Sept. 18, 1947. Encouraged by the Air Force in 1948, GE selected the former Wright Aeronautical plant in Lockland, Ohio, — in close proximity to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton — to be the company’s newest turbojet manufacturing facility. The Lockland site would pair with GE’s jet engine plant in Lynn, Massachusetts to power the Air Force’s newest fleets.
The first swept-wing fighter in the USAF arsenal, the North American F-86 Sabre, was fast and maneuverable, bolstered by GE’s J47 afterburner engine. The F-86 established air superiority during the Korean War with an estimated 14-to-1 kill ratio in combat with MiG-15 fighters. The USAF’s other prominent J47-powered jet in Korea was the high-speed, intimidating Boeing B-47 Stratojet. In total, more than 35,000 J47s were built, making it the most produced jet engine in aviation history.
Today, GE’s focus on Air Force initiatives remains strong. Here are some of the latest GE headlines heading into this week:
A new engine for the iconic B-52
The B-52 Stratofortress has been a constant presence in the skies since the Cold War-era. Its mission has evolved from deterrence, to conventional warfare, to modern-day precision strike and a key component of the nuclear triad. Now more than 60 years old, the B-52 is entering its next season of sustainment which requires reengining of the iconic bomber.
GE has two engines that represent great opportunities for the B-52. The CF34-10 is the gold standard for regional jets in terms of on-wing performance, reliability and low cost. GE’s Passport engine is the highest technology engine and has the best specific fuel consumption (SFC) of all the engines in its thrust class.
Both engines are manufactured in the USA. The CF34-10 engine assembly has come full circle, returning to its Durham, North Carolina roots.
“The CF34-10E engine was assembled in GE Aviation’s Durham facility for the first six years of its production,” explained Cristina Seda-Hoelle, General Manager, Regional Engines and Services, which includes CF34 and Passport. “In 2011, engine production moved to our Celma site to be closer to Embraer, which installed the engines on its E190/195 aircraft. The Celma team assembled more than 400 engines until the engine line returned to North Carolina several months ago where the final units will be produced.”
GE’s F110 for F-15EX
The USAF is recapitalizing its aging F-15C/D fighters with the new, advanced F-15EX.
GE Aviation has delivered its first F110-GE-129 engines for the United States Air Force’s F-15EX advanced fighter. In June, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCM) awarded GE Aviation the Lot 1 contract to produce 19 F110-GE-129 engines for the F-15EX
“GE’s F110 production line is fully operational and ready to serve the F-15EX program in support of the National Defense Strategy,” said Shawn Warren, GE Aviation’s vice president and general manager of large combat and mobility engines. “We’re proud to deliver these engines to Boeing and do our part to ensure the Air Force’s rapid fielding requirements are met to maintain fighter aircraft capacity.”
GE’s F110 is the only engine currently qualified on the F-15EX.
The F110 family of engines has surpassed 10 million flight hours. The F110 powers all the F-15s delivered in the last eight years.
The jet engine of the future: Adaptive Cycle
GE also continues work on the XA100 engine under the U.S. Air Force’s Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP), the service’s endeavor to create an advanced, next-generation combat engine.
This engine will increase combat aircraft thrust more than 10%, improve fuel efficiency by 25%, and provide significantly more aircraft heat dissipation capacity, all within the same physical envelope as current propulsion systems.
“We aim to open up the technology S-curve,” said David Tweedie, general manager of GE’s Advanced Combat Engines, referring to the progress of innovation from slow beginnings through a steeper acceleration phase to a flatter period of maturation. “The turbojet got us so far, and then it was kind of running out of gas,” he says. “Then investments were made to establish the turbofan, and we spent probably the last 40-50 years wringing out the efficiency and capabilities of that technology S-curve. And now what we’re doing is inventing a third S-curve for jet propulsion.”