New test trials reveal GE's XA100 engine will now power the F-35B

The engine has three notable innovations.
Loukia Papadopoulos
XA100 airflow render

General Electric 

General Electric has completed testing its new-generation XA100 engine under the Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP), the firm told The War Zone in an article published on Thursday. It is now looking at installing revolutionary technology into the F-35B stealth fighter.

A technical integration study

Originally, the XA100 was being considered only for the F-35A and the U.S. Navy’s F-35C. David Tweedie, GE Edison Works' vice president, and general manager for Advanced Products, told The War Zone that, “within the last few weeks,” the company has undertaken a technical integration study that examines what it would take to modify the XA100 to incorporate it with the F-35B.

"I am happy to report that we were able to show a technical solution there that did meet the technical goals that were put out, and it was a very collaborative and productive effort, with both Lockheed Martin and the Joint Program Office," Tweedie said. "Now, the B-model user community will have options for multiple engine companies moving forward as they think about their modernization needs, which is something they have never had."

Currently, all three versions (A, B, and C) of the F-35 are powered by GE’s competitor: the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan. The F136 from GE and Rolls-Royce was also under development, but it was canceled in 2011 after years of work and billions of dollars spent.

Three notable innovations

GE’s XA100 aims to provide a leap in performance for both fifth- and sixth-generation fighters and is being touted as the next big thing in fighter aircraft propulsion. It has three notable innovations that make it cutting edge:

It uses an adaptive cycle engine that allows a single powerplant to harness the advantages of commercial mixed-flow turbofans. “An engine that can be reconfigured in flight, adjust its bypass ratio to operate more like a commercial engine in a fuel-efficient mode, in subsonic cruise and loiter conditions, but then still have the ability to flex into a more traditional high-thrust mode for combat acceleration, high-Mach performance,” explained Tweedie.

Secondly, the novel engine is constructed around a three-stream architecture. “That third stream is primarily there to serve as a thermal management heat sink,” Tweedie said.

Thirdly, it has transitioned its hot section flow-path components from nickel-based superalloys to ceramic-based materials. “We initiated that in our commercial world; now we’re taking it to the next level in our military space,” Tweedie added. “Those materials can run hotter, and that’s how you get more performance; they’re lighter, and even at those hotter temperatures, they’re significantly more durable. o you move the curve on both performance and durability, which is unusual.”

All these improvements make the XA100 more fuel efficient, allow it to provide double the thermal management, and exceed today’s durability requirements, making it a better fit for the F-35B than any other engine available. Now, those are some exciting developments.

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