Shawn Warren, the vice president and general manager for large military engines at GE Aviation, discusses the company’s proposals in the US Air Force competition to replace the Pratt & Whitney TF33 engines on the service’s Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers with newer, more fuel efficient powerplants with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian. The interview was conducted at the Air Force Association’s 2019 Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando where our coverage was sponsored by Leonardo DRS and L3 Technologies.
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here in Orlando, Florida for the Air Force Association’s Annual Air Warfare Symposium, one of the most important gatherings of the Air Force leaders, industry, thought leaders, as well as media here in sunny Orlando. Our coverage here is sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
We’re here at General Electric, again, to talk to Shawn Warren who is the Vice President for Large Military Engines at General Electric, even though it’s the turbofan, the Evandale turbofan and turbojet. I went through this with Carl Sheldon last year. I just think it’s really, really cool.
Shawn Warren: I’ll go by either title.
Mr. Muradian: You’ll go by either title.
So B-52, obviously, it’s one of the big talks of the show. Everybody is looking at the reengining program. You guys have two bids that we discussed a little bit, but I want to talk to you a little bit about an update on that. So where does the program stand right now? You’re the first interview that we’re doing on the program. So give us a sense on where that process is right now.
Mr. Warren: Great. Thank you for asking.
We are in the first stage of a two-step process. Over the next six to eight months we’re going to go work on an integration aspect. All of the competitors will have an opportunity to study how their engines can integrate into the aircraft. Then from there we’ll go to a formal RFP, and the thought is the Air Force will do a down-select to the final engine platform.
So we have the privilege of having two different engines being offered in the competition. We have the CF34-10, 26 million hours flight time, 1600 engines in service, proven reliability. I think we would say probably the lowest cost platform there.
And at the other end of the spectrum we have the Passport engine which just went into service in December on the Global 7500 program, but latest and greatest technology, best fuel burn in its class. It actually shares a lot of common technology with the LEAP platform so it will benefit from the learning and the millions of hours of experience that the LEAP is getting as it goes into service.
Mr. Muradian: And when is the in-service that the service is shooting for, ball park, to get the contract announced and to get a capability out there?
Mr. Warren: I think they’re looking at making a decision in the first half of next year. A final decision for engine selection. This program is actually on the list of programs for rapid acquisition under Dr. Roper’s initiative, so that basically means we are in a sort of five-year time frame. So they’re thinking in the ’24 time frame that we would actually have product in service.
Mr. Muradian: That’s great.
So tell us a little bit about where you guys are — so what are you telling the customer, or what are you telling the world about how much fuel efficiency you have over the TF33 which is what’s been powering that aircraft for a long time.
Mr. Warren: Great question. Modern engines obviously bring a lot of modern capability. I would say anywhere from 20-30 percent range, depending on the engine that you’re talking about, you can get that type of fuel efficiency there. So Passport obviously being closer to the 30 percent number.
Mr. Muradian: Also from a maintenance standpoint, you’re looking at a much more modular engine design. So how much maintenance are you taking out with each of your engines also by way of percentage as you make your case?
Mr. Warren: I don’t know that one. I will say that the CF34-10 is getting 10,000 plus hours on wing. And actually as we go look at either platform as it goes into the aircraft, we’re expecting that the Air Force is never actually going to have to remove these engines. So once they install these, they should be able to go fly them throughout the life of the aircraft with today’s target at 2050.
Mr. Muradian: It was interesting that in the conversation there are some folks who are making the case that digital flight controls actually will not work for an airplane like the B-52 because it’s nuclear hardened, and in order to be able to do it you can’t have any of these advanced digital features on the airplane. So what’s your point/counterpoint to that kind of argumentation that a lot of these newer digital flight control engines are actually maybe, might not be suited for an aircraft that has to be hardened for a nuclear operating environment?
Mr. Warren: We don’t see that in any way as a major stumbling block. We actually all assume it will be part of the requirements that we have to go through some nuclear hardening assessment of the engines. It’s something that has been done on other platforms before. It’s a known level of scope. So in no way do we see that being a roadblock for putting a modern engine on an existing aircraft. Even one as experienced as the B-52.
Mr. Muradian: That was an elegant way of putting it. A very mature airplane.
Mr. Warren: Mature, that’s an even better word.
Mr. Muradian: What’s the value of the contract roughly? The B-52 force is not very, like 68 airplanes as I recall.
Mr. Warren: It’s 75 to 80 aircraft.
Mr. Muradian: I was thinking PAA.
Mr. Warren: We’re assuming it’s probably 600-plus engines is what the total buy would be for this program here.
Mr. Muradian: So what would be the ball park cost of that? Billions? Hundreds of millions?
Mr. Warren: I think the Air Force has talked about this being a total $9 billion kind of program, something in that range.
Mr. Muradian: And so you’re a fellow New Yorker. You’re from Queens. A Mets fan, I’m assuming?
Mr. Warren: I am a Mets fan, yes.
Mr. Muradian: A long-suffering Mets fan.
Mr. Warren: A long-suffering — when I grew up the Mets were really good. We had Donald Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, that was a long time ago, but yeah.
Mr. Muradian: I remember, even though I was a Yankee fan growing up as a Manhattanite with a grandmother in the Bronx, all of our games we would go to were at Shea because my friend had a box over third base, so we would talk to Frank Howard and Rusty Staub and all those guys from —
Mr. Warren: Good times.
Mr. Muradian: Yeah, it was good times. ’86 was a very, very good year because New York beat Boston.
Mr. Warren: A great year.
Mr. Muradian: It was a great year. And I miss Shea. I haven’t been to City Field.
Two questions. One, how do you like City Field? And how do you think the Mets are going to do this year?
Mr. Warren: I love City Field. It is an absolutely great facility. I mean I loved Shea because when I was growing up that was the stadium you went to. But City Field, still great.
How we’re going to do this year? I think we’re still very much in a rebuilding model right now, but they’ve got a lot of good, young talent, so I think we’re just trying to reload. We’re probably a few years away before really competing again.
Mr. Muradian: As a sentimental favorite I’ll be pulling for the Mets any time you guys get in there, unless it’s against the Yankees or the Nationals.
Thanks very much, Shawn. Really appreciate it. Best of luck on the program.
Mr. Warren: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity.