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“The First 21st-Century Engine”: GE’s Next-Gen XA100 Fighter Jet Engine Passes Its Last Big Test

Jeremy K. Spencer
September 12, 2022
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“Designing a fighter jet engine is an incredibly humbling experience,” says David Tweedie, VP and general manager for advanced products at GE’s Edison Works. “There’s literally zero room for error,” which is why Tweedie is so excited about GE’s new XA100 passing its final and most rigorous test — conducted in August at Tennessee’s Arnold Air Force Base — and what that means for the future of America’s national security. 

The XA100 is an “adaptive cycle” engine, designed for maximum efficiency across subsonic, transonic, and supersonic flight speeds. Being engineered to seamlessly, and automatically, go from high-thrust events — think takeoff and advanced aerial combat maneuvers — to high-efficiency mode makes the XA100 a true super jet. Additionally, the XA100 exhibits high fuel efficiency on long-haul flights, which, of course, is not something that fighter jets are traditionally known for. But Tweedie says that’s about to change.

“Many thought the jet engine was a mature technology, that it couldn’t be improved,” says Tweedie, “but the team here at Edison Works knew there was a next level.” Designed for future and retrofit use in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 — the stealth multi-role combat aircraft that serves as the cornerstone of the U.S. fighter fleet — the XA100 is the answer to a very important question that the U.S. military posed to GE in 2016: How can we ensure American air superiority for the next generation?

 

 

“Hundreds of brilliant GE aerospace engineers picked up that gauntlet, and by passing the Air Force’s latest tests with flying colors, the XA100 just told us we were more than up to the task,” says Tweedie. ““This engine isn’t a concept, proposal, or research program. This is a flight-weight engine that would provide the F-35 with more range, faster acceleration, and significant mission systems growth, to harness the F-35’s full capabilities. It’s the first 21st-century engine.” What this means for the coming decades, he adds, is that U.S. pilots flying F-35s outfitted with the XA100 would have the ability to outperform the enemy and exploit an asymmetric battlefield advantage, thanks to the engine’s revolutionary technological advancements.

“The U.S. has maintained global air superiority for 70 years,” he says, “but it’s on every generation to make sure that we have the capabilities to defeat the enemy, no matter where in the world they may be.” And the XA100 does just that, supercharging the F-35 to fly farther, faster, with more flexibility. It vastly improves upon legacy engines by delivering a 30% range increase — critical for Pacific theater readiness — via 25% better fuel efficiency, as well as a 10% boost to thrust, which translates to greater than 20% faster acceleration, for unprecedented tactical maneuverability.

Another big advantage designed to boost the tactical prowess of the F-35, now and in the future, is the XA100’s game-changing 100% increase in thermal management, or heat dissipation. Doubling the capacity for cooling is key in transforming the F-35 fleet into a far more versatile force. The “third stream” of the XA100 augments the core engine airstream and fan-bypass stream with an additional cooling stream surrounding the chassis, meaning the F-35 would be able to handle the higher heat generated as more and more powerful combat systems are brought online.

And as an adaptive-cycle engine, the XA100 can, like commercial aircraft engines, burn much less fuel than legacy fighter engines on longer flights. Most jet engines are built to optimize either fuel efficiency and range (commercial) or thrust and performance (military); the XA100 does both, allowing pilots to engage in a wider range of missions.

It’s also designed to be easily swapped into most of the existing U.S. Armed Forces F-35 fleet — that majority being composed of the Air Force’s conventional F-35A and the Navy’s carrier-based F-35C — with no structural airframe modifications necessary. 

Tweedie says that GE’s XA100 is set to be “the most capable and durable combat engine ever deployed, ensuring the F-35’s relevance for decades to come,” but it would also represent a huge step toward the U.S. Department of Defense’s efforts to shrink the fighter fleet’s carbon footprint. The biofuel-compatible XA100 produces 25% less CO2 than the most efficient legacy engines.

“This is the engine of the future,” says Tweedie, “and we’re ready to move beyond the R&D program and begin more serious production to meet the U.S. military’s challenge — to upgrade its F-35 fleet before the end of the decade.”

 

Top: An artist's rendering of the F-35 equipped with an XA100 engine. Credit: GE Aviation

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Press Release

GE begins industry’s first adaptive cycle engine tests at Arnold Engineering Development Complex

March 30, 2022

TULLAHOMA, Tenn. – The U.S. Air Force and GE on March 25th initiated Phase 2 testing of GE’s second XA100 adaptive cycle engine at the Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC). This milestone marks the first test of an Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) engine at AEDC.

For media inquiries, please contact:

William "Cole" Massie
Media Relations
(513) 288-4489
[email protected]

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Press Release

GE successfully concludes phase 1 testing on second XA100 adaptive cycle engine

December 15, 2021

EVENDALE, Ohio – GE has concluded phase 1 testing on its second XA100 adaptive cycle engine as part of the U.S. Air Force’s Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP). Phase 1 testing took place at GE’s Evendale, Ohio, altitude test facility and  enabled GE to continue gathering high-quality performance data validating the engine’s transformational propulsion capability. Phase 2 tests will begin at the U.S. Air Force’s advanced testing facilities at Arnold Engineering  Development Complex (AEDC) in the first quarter of 2022.

For media inquiries, please contact:

William "Cole" Massie
Media Relations
(513) 288-4489
[email protected]

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Aerospace

The Superjet: How GE’s Adaptive Cycle Jet Engine Could Supercharge Military Aviation

Alyssa Newcomb
October 25, 2021

When David Tweedie describes what it’s like working on the XA100, a fighter jet engine that has been designed to adapt for improved fuel burn on long patrols or increase thrust in combat situations, he compares it to a robot that could have leaped off the pages of a comic book.

“It’s like a transforming engine — literally,” says Tweedie, general manager for advanced combat engines at GE Edison Works, a business unit dedicated to the research, development and production of advanced technology for the military. “XA100 is an engine that can adapt in flight to mimic a passenger jet engine or a fighter jet engine — all without the pilot pushing a button.”

The XA100 is what’s known as an adaptive cycle engine. It’s engineered to switch easily between high-thrust and high-efficiency modes, allowing it to adapt to just about any situation a military jet could encounter in the air. The engine is currently in testing, but it has been designed for future use in the Lockheed Martin F-35A and F-35C.

 

XA100 USAF

 

GE has been working closely with the Air Force on an adaptive cycle engine since 2007, first under the auspices of the Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology (ADVENT) program and then through the Adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) program. All those years of testing, analysis and Air Force investment paid off last December when the first prototype for the AETP program roared to life and passed its first big test.

Then, in August, Tweedie and his team fired up their second prototype at GE’s altitude test facility in Evendale, Ohio. “This engine wanted to fire up,” he says. “There’s not much I’m allowed to share about testing, but I can share that there was a tremendous amount of excitement. And now we’re fully focused on a successful test campaign.”

They were enthusiastic for good reason. The XA100 combines essential design elements from two different worlds — military and commercial. Fighter jets are powered by sleek, narrow low-bypass turbofans that quickly move air through the engine core, maximizing the amount of thrust from the airflow. But to reach the supersonic speeds fighter jets are known for, fuel efficiency is a fallout. Commercial airline engines, on the other hand, are equipped with high-bypass turbofans, which send the bulk of air through their large fans — the GE9X fan measures 11 feet in diameter — and push less air through the engine core. This helps them cover long distances without refueling stops.

Until now, design engineers had to choose between the two designs. But the XA100’s flow path has been engineered in such a way that it allows the engine to adapt to its mission, automatically switching between a high-thrust mode to achieve maximum speed and a high-efficiency mode to conserve fuel. It opens up what Tweedie and his team call “the world of ‘and.’”

“Legacy fighter engine architecture has limits,” Tweedie explains. “You can make marginal improvements in thrust, fuel efficiency or thermal management, but it means choosing which characteristic to improve and which to leave behind. The adaptive cycle architecture enables transformational improvements in fuel efficiency and thrust and cooling, all in a single package. You don’t have to live with the traditional trade-offs.”

The high-efficiency mode can be a cost saver, too. As is true of airlines, a sizable chunk of U.S. military spending each year goes to jet fuel. A more fuel-efficient engine means using less fuel and less reliance on the air-to-air tanker refueling support fighter jets need for longer missions. It also translates to reduced carbon emissions.

“Over the life cycle of the engine, those fuel savings amount to a significant amount of money that, in effect, helps the engine pay for itself,” he adds.

 

XA 100 airflow

 

Tweedie describes the two XA100 prototype engines as the “most heavily instrumented engines in history.” Engine instrumentation allows the test team to make sure every part of the engine is performing as expected. But to get from the starting point five years ago to the first two prototype tests required “rigorous design work.” His team, along with their partners at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, had to build a new engine “front to back,” he says. This approach enabled this revolutionary engine design while also allowing GE to use cutting-edge manufacturing technologies like additive manufacturing and ceramic matrix composites (CMCs).

“3D printing helped us to create an amazing array of heat exchangers that simply could not be made conventionally,” Tweedie says, referring to the process used in additive manufacturing. “We also have a turbine blade made out of ceramic matrix composites. This is the first engine intended for production that we have put this in.”

As for the crucial testing data, it’s showing the investment in GE’s engine is paying off. The XA100 is demonstrating the performance goals the Air Force set for itself: increasing thrust by 10%, increasing fuel efficiency by 25% and significantly increasing thermal management via the third airflow stream to dissipate heat from both the engine and the aircraft.

“We’ve had the good fortune to mature XA100 in close partnership with the Air Force,” Tweedie says. “With the technologies in XA100, I think having that strong synergy has been key in reaching this milestone.”

GE will continue testing the engine in Evendale, Ohio, before it goes for further testing at the world-class testing facilities of the U.S. Air Force Arnold Engineering Development Complex in Tennessee. Once the team finishes there, Tweedie says, GE will have concluded its work for the AETP program.

“This engine is not a concept or an experiment or a marketing pitch — it’s the future of propulsion,” Tweedie says. “It’s been designed, built, tested and validated. We’re ready to bring it out of the test cell and into the hands of military pilots.”

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Press Release

GE initiates testing on second XA100 adaptive cycle engine

September 07, 2021

EVENDALE, Ohio – GE has initiated testing on its second XA100 adaptive cycle engine as part of the U.S. Air Force’s Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP). Testing began on August 26, 2021, at GE’s Evendale, Ohio, altitude test facility. This is GE’s final planned prototype engine as part of AETP.

For media inquiries, please contact:

William "Cole" Massie
Media Relations
(513) 288-4489
[email protected]

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