Next-gen engine for current and future helicopter fleets begins testing

B-21 Raider concept

WASHINGTON — The engine for the U.S. Army’s Improved Turbine Engine Program has begun initial testing, the service and the engine’s developer announced March 23.

The GE T901 “first engine to test” underwent a “light off,” marking the first time fuel was ignited in the engine, according to the Army.

The Army selected the ITEP engine, built by General Electric, in February 2019, with the company receiving a $517 million award to build it. GE beat out the Advanced Turbine Engine Company — a Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney team — after a decade of competitive technology development.

The engine will not only replace those currently in the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk utility and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters; it will also serve as the engine in the service’s future attack reconnaissance aircraft, or FARA. The Army selected Bell and Lockheed Martin to competitively build prototypes with the ITEP engines.

The program experienced some delays in delivering the first engine to the Army due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the service’s program executive officer for aviation, Brig. Gen. Robert Barrie, told Defense News in a recent interview that despite delays, he believes it’s possible the FARA prototypes will fly in fiscal 2023.

On the original timeline, GE was expected to provide the first engine to test in the last quarter of FY21, and a flight test airworthiness release was expected in the first quarter of FY23.

Low-rate initial production was planned to begin in the fourth quarter of FY24 and wrap up in the fourth quarter of FY26, with a full-rate production decision following.

The first engine to test is a “critical milestone,” according to the Army’s statement. “It is the culmination of years of engineering design work that will verify and validate engine performance models through engine testing.”

Barrie told Defense News the engine was instrumented with more than 700 sensors to measure data during testing.

The engine is expected to run for more than 100 hours over the next two months as a “gradual break-in process that builds up to maximum power runs,” the service and GE statement said.

The engine tests are based in an upgraded test cell at the GE facility in Lynn, Massachusetts. Testing will also occur at its facility in Evendale, Ohio, and in government facilities, according to a company announcement.

“The early testing data we’ve gathered indicates the engine is performing in line with our expectations and Army requirements,” said GE’s T901 program director, Tom Champion.

GE used advanced materials in its engine lines, and used 3D-printed and ceramic matrix composites to develop and build the T901.

“Compared to its predecessor, the GE T700, the T901′s 50% power increase restores aircraft performance, while its 25% better specific fuel consumption reduces fuel usage and carbon emissions. Increased component durability will lower life cycle costs,” GE stated.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.



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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.