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More powerful helicopter engine in development

Feb. 28, 2013 - 07:09AM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 28, 2013 - 07:09AM  |  
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The T700 engine used by Black Hawk helicopters — like eight-track players, Polaroid cameras and other 1970s-era technology — is past its prime, according to the Army.

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The T700 engine used by Black Hawk helicopters — like eight-track players, Polaroid cameras and other 1970s-era technology — is past its prime, according to the Army.

To replace the engine in both the Black Hawk and the Apache helicopter, the Army is developing a common engine under the Improved Turbine Engine Program. That next-generation helicopter engine is meant to be more powerful, more fuel-efficient and easier to maintain — all at the same size "envelope" as the T700.

Here are five things you need to know about the new engine:

1. Respect for the old. According to the manufacturer, GE Aviation, the T700 has amassed more than 60 million engine flight hours, powering more than 20 types of rotary and fixed-wing aircraft in more than 50 countries.

Now the Army is ready for a change, according to Sophia Bledsoe, spokeswoman for the Army's program executive office for aviation.

The T700 engine has evolved, delivering 1,500 horsepower in the 1970s to 2,000 in the latest version, according to the Army. The ITEP engine would be required to deliver 3,000 horsepower.

"The current T700 series engine performance has been maximized," she said. "Without ITEP, aircraft weight growth, based on historical trends of added capabilities, in the coming years will result in significantly reduced operational capability and decreased power margins."

2. It's in development. The materiel development decision was approved in October, and on Nov. 16, the acquisition decision memorandum was approved that authorized the program to enter the material solutions analysis phase.

That phase, used to look at available technology, is expected to be completed before the end of this year.

The program is on track for a Milestone A decision in late 2013, at which point the program requirements would be released, and contractors would be able to compete to build the engine through normal contract channels.

3. High, hot and heavy. The long-term implications for Army aviation and operations are significant, and the Army has been working at this for several years, according to Bledsoe.

The idea is to use technological advancements since 1970 to ensure that it has a 65 percent greater horsepower-to-weight ratio, 35 percent lower production and maintenance costs and a 20 percent greater design life.

The engine would also be required to operate efficiently at 6,000 feet and at 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. It's greener. The engine is required to use 25 percent less fuel, which fits into broader efforts within the Army to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

The requirement for an improved turbine engine with greater fuel efficiency, increased reliability and more efficient components comes from the Operational Energy for Sustained Ground Operation initial-capabilities document approved April 18 by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.

The engine will operate on blended alternative fuels that meet current JP-8 fuel specifications.

Other alternative fuels would have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, since each such fuel would have specific burn characteristics that could require a unique engine design, Bledsoe said.

5. "Win-win," but will it last? Though everything looks safe for the program now, Bledsoe said, the federal government's budget crisis could throw this program — and others — into uncertainty.

Until sequestration and the continuing resolution situations are resolved, the program faces the same future budget uncertainties of other Defense Department acquisition programs, Bledsoe said.

It can't hurt that the program has senior leader backing.

Lt. Gen. William Phillips, military deputy to the Army's acquisition executive, in January called the program to build a new energy-efficient engine a "win-win" for the Army, industry and the taxpayers.

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