Aviation fuel is an enduring part of the Air Force energy strategy and our team is dedicated to providing solutions for the energy challenges of today and tomorrow. Technological advances across the defense and commercial aviation industry are laying the groundwork for a fundamental shift in aircraft operation and design in the future. Advances in airframe shape, drag reducing methodologies, and more powerful engines could substantially change the way the Air Force operates today. Benefits would include increased range, loiter-time on station, and reduced tanker demand, resulting in improved combat capability.
By investing in research and development now, we can ensure the Air Force remains resilient and lethal against our adversaries in the future.
In 2015, wind tunnel tests demonstrated performance of an optimized airframe with over wing nacelles (the housing for the engine is placed on top of the wing versus underneath) and confirmed 15 to 20 percent engine efficiency improvement over advanced tube-and-wing design aircraft, as well as 70 percent less fuel burn than the C-17 Globemaster III, indicating the potential for future costs savings in the billions of dollars. The engines can also be embedded in the airframe, giving the advantage of enhanced lift, range and efficiency while improving survivability.
The Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) aims to produce prototypes of three-stream adaptive engines that are light weight and flight ready. By relying on a third stream of air that can be dynamically modulated between the engine’s core and the bypass stream, an adaptive engine can provide increased thrust during combat conditions and increased fuel efficiency during cruise conditions. Fielding such engines would enable air power with increased range, reduced tanker demand, and additional cooling air for thermal management. AETP capitalizes on the Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology (ADVENT) program and the Adaptive Engine Technology Demonstration (AETD) program.
The Air Dominance Adaptive Propulsion Technology (ADAPT) program builds on the success of the Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology (ADVENT) and Adaptive Engine Technology Demonstration (AETD) programs by bringing adaptive technologies into the turbine engine core. Additionally, the program will mature advanced high-strength, high-temperature materials and advanced manufacturing processes. The program is aimed at enhancing capabilities for multiple combat aircraft applications; however, some ADAPT technology could also be used for mobility platforms to maximize energy efficiency across the entire fleet. ADAPT enables optimization of Mega Watt Aircraft power and thermal capabilities. The program will also increase range approximately 10 percent beyond the currently developing adaptive engine technology without compromising performance.
Efficient Medium Scale Propulsion (EMSP) is a program that will develop and demonstrate advanced propulsion technologies applicable to the MQ-9 (Reaper) and other Class 4/5 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The resulting engine improvements will double the power available on station, increase range, and increase loiter-time on station. In addition, it will eliminate additional support equipment required for some current MQ-9 missions.
The Megawatt Tactical Aircraft (MWTA) program is developing advanced power and thermal technologies, power components, thermal components, and complete architectures compatible with variable, adaptive-cycle engines (e.g. Adaptive Engine Transition Program and Air Dominance Adaptive Propulsion Technology). This program will enable advanced capability for radars, data links, directed energy weapons, electronic attack, special mission systems, and energy-optimized architectures, as well as reduced weight and fuel consumption contributing to increased range.
The Legacy Fleet Energy Efficiency program is developing a range of fuel-burn reduction technologies for legacy and future transport and tanker aircraft. Technologies include aft body flow control using microvanes (as pictured) and finlets, adaptive winglets, compliant trailing edges and surface enhancements and coatings. The program aims to increase fuel efficiency of legacy fleet mobility aircraft by 1-6 percent, meaning more payload, longer range, or, more generally, increased options for commanders.
The objective of this initiative is to autonomously fly aircraft in formation, at safe distances. The trailing aircraft gains energy efficiencies by flying in a certain position off the leading aircraft. The Surfing Aircraft Vortices for Energy ($AVE) proof of concept flight tests first conducted in FY 2012 and FY 2013 demonstrated the potential for the trail aircraft to achieve 8 to10 percent fuel savings.