Air Force Leaders Hear About What's Next for Propulsion

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Every year, the Air Force Association holds its Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, to bring together Air Force and industry leaders to discuss the issues and challenges facing today's airmen.

Among those present at last week's symposium were members of the Pratt & Whitney Military Engines leadership and business development teams, on a mission to meet with customers to better understand their needs.

"This was a phenomenal conference – we had frank and productive discussions with commanders from across the Air Force and we took the opportunity to reinforce our commitment to their mission," said retired Lt. Gen. Mike Moeller, vice president of Business Development & International Programs. "It's important to understand their requirements to ensure we deliver the capability they depend upon every day."

In addition to several one-on-one meetings with customers such as Gen. David L. Goldfein, chief of staff, United States Air Force, the topic of propulsion was front and center during one of the panel discussions for the conference. Jimmy Kenyon, executive director, Advanced Programs and Technology, Pratt & Whitney, was joined by representatives from Rolls-Royce, GE Aviation, and the IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute, to discuss what's next on the horizon for the Air Force, particularly with regard to emerging propulsion technologies.

"While the current production engine (for the F-35) meets or exceeds all of today's propulsion performance specifications, we are already looking ahead at how we can continue to improve the F135 for future needs," said Kenyon. "Right now we're maturing a suite of technologies to enhance capabilities … with reduced fuel burn, increased thrust, and improved durability."

Kenyon added that Pratt & Whitney plans to test an F135 incorporating these technologies in the spring, so they'll be ready to transition into qualification to support future block upgrades for all variants for the F-35 Lightning II.

Along a parallel and complimentary path, Pratt & Whitney is also involved in on one of the Air Force's top propulsion priorities – the Adaptive Engine Transition Program, or AETP – added Kenyon.

"We think adaptive engines will be a critical enabler for virtually all future combat aircraft. After all, we've seen firsthand what they can do," he said.

Citing Pratt & Whitney's experience pioneering the first adaptive engine, the J58, which powered the iconic SR-71 Blackbird, and more recently, the F-35B STOVL aircraft, Kenyon emphasized that experience matters when it comes to developing a next generation adaptive engine.

In addition to making improvements to the F135 and developing adaptive engine technologies, Pratt & Whitney is working on improving integrated power and thermal capacity, and looking at opportunities form more electric and even hybrid-electric propulsion and power architectures. The company is also paying close attention to the Air Force's call for lower cost solutions for attritable aircraft, and even looking at novel concepts such as distributed propulsion that can change the way the industry looks at aircraft design, according to Kenyon.

"It really is an exciting time to be in the propulsion industry," he said. "We're delivering great new capability today, working on the next generation of propulsion through programs like AETP, and starting to work on concepts that will define the future of aviation. So what's next? Quite a lot!"

Click here to read or listen to Kenyon's remarks.