GE has just completed its initial testing of the first full-scale XA100 three-stream adaptive combat engine – an all-new combat powerhouse that promises to give the United States a distinct advantage in the skies of the 21st century. Fighters have always had to maintain a tightrope between unleashing the power of their engines and saving enough fuel to be effective in a fight. With GE’s XA100, it will become much easier.
The first full-scale XA100 is one of two technology demonstrators contracted out to GE under the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP), with development elements managed both through Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology Engine Technology Development Programs (AETDs).
This first demonstrator was intended not only to deliver incredible power, but a huge improvement in engine efficiency that can deliver greater fuel range and longer release times than ever before.
“The Air Force’s goal was to develop the architecture and technologies of next-generation combat engines to provide a generational change in combat propulsion capability,” said David Tweedie, Chief Executive Officer advanced combat engines from GE Edison Works, at Sandboxx News.
“GE has worked hard to meet the ambitious goals set by the Air Force and we believe we are accomplishing what they have asked us to do.”
And they did. GE tested its XA100 in its high-altitude test cell in Evendale, Ohio, over a period of more than three months, starting in late 2020, and according to their reports, the engine actually does. overwhelmed their performance targets. The main of their goals was to successfully demonstrate the engine’s ability to operate both in a strong push mode that offers unmatched power in combat and a low power mode which makes it possible to cover greater distances or stay in flight for long periods.
“We achieved all of our major testing goals,” Tweedie said. Aviation week. “The engine performed well with our pre-test predictions and was very consistent with the program goals. We were able to demonstrate the two different engine modes and the ability to seamlessly transition between these two modes. “
The goal of GE’s XA100 engine was to increase thrust by 10% and fuel efficiency by 25%, but in testing the engine did even better than that.
“Not only are we doing it, but we’re actually exceeding that pretty much everywhere in the flight envelope – and in a few places – by up to 20%. [more thrust]Tweedie said. “We are very satisfied with the current situation in terms of exceeding program requirements.”
“When you translate that into what it means for the platform, it’s 30% more autonomy or 50% more waiting time depending on how you want to use this improved fuel mileage. This is a significant increase in acceleration and combat capability with increasing thrust, ”he added.
American fighter jets are already renowned for their powerful and efficient engines. China and Russia both have new fifth-generation (stealth) fighters in service, but both countries continue to fight with commissioning engines that are adequate to meet the performance needs of high-level fighters of the 21st century. However, China claims to be developing on its specially designed WS-15 engines to bring its stealth fighter Chengdu J-20 on par with the US F-22, threatening to undermine that advantage.
GE’s new XA100 can produce a whopping 45,000 pounds of thrust, beating Pratt and Whitney’s F-135-PW-100 which currently powers the US single-engine F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and makes it a viable option for the iteration of conventional track. of the jet, the F-35A. This news comes in the middle lingering concerns about F-35 engine uptime and maintenance issues that could threaten up to 20% of F-35s if a solution is not found quickly. Although GE’s XA100 does not enter service in time to address these shortcomings, the new engine highlights the concept’s promising future, as well as other potential applications for this engine that span across three generations of fighters.
“The ADVENT, AETD and AETP programs were put in place to mature technologies from a design and manufacturing perspective and to reduce program risks to enable multiple engineering and manufacturing development programs ( EMD) at low risk that could be applied to legacy, current production and future fighter aircraft platforms, ”Tweedie told Sandboxx News.
This section on “Legacy, Current Production and Future Fighter Aircraft Programs” is particularly important as the United States Air Force continues to consider how best to tackle the issue of horsepower. airline in this new era of quasi-peer competition. The F-35, once intended to serve as the backbone of the US Air Force for decades to come, is now facing renewed criticism on the operational costs which threaten the supremacy of the program on the list of budgetary priorities of the Air Force.
Meanwhile, older fighters like the F-15 have returned to the forefront thanks to significant upgrades, with the F-15EX Eagle II make his way in the service. And like the Air Force, the US Navy is also doubling down on its older, fourth-generation platforms, taking deliveries on the first new Block III Super Hornets last summer.
In order not to focus too much on the past and the present, the Air Force and the Navy are also continuing their discreet development on the NGAD Hunter Program who promises to give following air superiority platform, which some say will be the first of a sixth generation fighters. All in all, that means the United States will likely work. three different generations of fighters simultaneously in the next twenty years. While the fifth and sixth generation platforms will provide the greatest survivability in highly contested airspace, the fourth generation jets would also benefit from an increase in power and efficiency, making 4th generation birds. most capable generation in the world. even more able.
But above all, this additional capacity will not come with additional elements that the pilot can follow. In recent years, the Pentagon has devoted huge amounts of funding to limit the cognitive load on fighter pilots during combat operations, by streamlining their interface to aircraft controls and merging data to deliver relevant information in the pilot’s field of view. In keeping with this concept, GE’s XA100 manages the transition between modes without any pilot intervention.
“The mode transition is seamless for the pilot, and they won’t even know when it’s happening,” Tweedie told Sandboxx News.
“They will control the engine power using the throttle as they always have, and the engine program will determine the appropriate mode of operation.”
But the XA100 isn’t just a big deal because of its fuel efficiency and power. While this new engine’s ability to seamlessly switch between tearing the sky like a superior fuel dragster and keeping the fuel gauge like a Toyota Prius might grab the attention of aviation enthusiasts, perhaps it is the thermal management of the engine and the use of advanced component technologies that make the XA100 a leap forward in hunting engines.
According to Tweedie, the “three-stream architecture” of the XA100 allows a doubling of the thermal management capacity, that is to say a real reduction in the heat created by the operation of the engine. This heat reduction is essential as modern airplanes move away from traditional metal airframes and fuselages to more advanced composite materials. Heat is currently a limiting factor in power generation, but that will no longer be the case with this new generation of powertrains.
“We are seeing a significant increase in capacity there [with] up to twice the growth of mission systems thanks to [improved] thermal management, ”Tweedie said.
Advanced component technologies, including additives and ceramic matrix composites used in the design of the XA100, also play an important role in what makes this new engine a head and shoulders above previous power plants. Not only does this reduce the overall weight of the engine, but also increases its durability compared to previous models.
The resulting combination of power, fuel economy, heat management and tough yet lightweight construction makes the XA100 the physical embodiment of a hunting engine wish list. While one of these capacity enhancements would be welcome in most fighter designs, putting them together into a single system could well lead to a powerhouse that is even greater than the sum of its parts.
And with nations around the world hastily developing new fifth and sixth generation fighters, the United States will need every advantage it can have to maintain its competitive edge.