Monday, January 18, 2010

New Year, New Milestones, Same Great Engine

By now, most of you will have viewed the video posted here and elsewhere on the Web showing the first in-flight F-35 engagement of the Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) Lift Fan propulsion system. Days later, I still get goose bumps watching the F-35 Lightning II, powered by the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, successfully achieve such a crucial milestone. And while that video engenders excitement and gratification throughout the Pratt & Whitney family as well as among our teammates, it also reminds us that there are numerous milestones ahead as the F135 continues to power Lockheed Martin’s F-35 flight test program while the engine also advances toward full production.

First, however, let’s remember how far we’ve come. Roughly a decade ago, Pratt & Whitney evolved the proven F119 engine (the exclusive propulsion system for the F-22 Raptor) to power both Joint Strike Fighter finalists. Following Lockheed Martin’s selection as the winning prime contractor, Pratt & Whitney began testing and manufacturing 18 flight test engines, the last of which will be delivered shortly. More than 126 test flights and 13,000 test hours later, the F135 remains the only engine to power an F-35, an accomplishment that will continue for quite some time to come.

In the world of jet engine test, there is a metric that is used to determine how the engine is progressing through System, Development and Demonstration. The metric is referred to as risk retirement. As the risk in the program is retired, the engine progresses in maturity. It’s worth noting that 90 percent of the F135’s program risk has now been retired through testing and other verifiable processes. And that number will be even higher by year-end. The most visible benefit of this engineering rigor is that despite the occasional challenge inherent with such a sophisticated propulsion system, the F135 has never caused a flight test delay or in-flight incident.

Pratt & Whitney will deliver its very first production F135 in the coming weeks. Also expected in the near future, and arguably most noteworthy is achievement of Initial Service Release for the Conventional Take Off and Landing/Carrier Variant (CTOL/CV) F135 engine, a key U.S. government endorsement that will mean the F135 meets all safety, reliability and performance requirements for operational use in the field. Simply put, the F135 is about to become the most advanced fighter engine ever certified for the defense of America’s freedom. Stand by for even more goose bumps.

-- Eagleblogger

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