Technology symposium highlights turbine engine successes

  • Published
  • By Michael Kelly
  • Air Force Research Laboratory
Nearly 100 years after the Wright brothers changed the future with their first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., a new generation of American scientists and engineers gathered here to tackle the challenges of powering flight for the next century.

Nearly 700 Defense Department, NASA and aerospace industry participants joined forces Sept. 9 to 12 in the Wright brothers' hometown for the Turbine Engine Technology Symposium, a forum designed to explore and exploit the latest propulsion technology advances that will preserve America's dominance in the air. The biennial event is sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory's propulsion directorate.

Keynote speaker F. Whitten Peters, former secretary of the Air Force and now vice chairman of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry, acknowledged that propulsion is the crucial enabler to America's future aerospace capability.

"Over the last 10 months, the commission has met with (more than) 100 companies, government organizations and interest groups. We have heard from (more than) 60 witnesses, and spoken with government and industry representatives from seven foreign countries. The recurring message is that propulsion is the key enabler to our nation's future aerospace capability -- both on the air side and in space," Peters said.

There is a national collaborative effort between the government and the aerospace industry linked by two research, development, test and evaluation programs that are already delivering cutting edge propulsion technologies for aircraft like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Capabilities like supersonic flight without afterburners, called supercruise, and short takeoff-vertical landing capabilities are realities thanks to their early efforts.

The Integrated High Performance Turbine Engine Technology program was established in 1987 and is well on the way to achieving its goal of doubling aircraft propulsion capability by 2005, according to Peters. The Versatile, Affordable, Advanced Turbine Engines program is focused on a tenfold improvement in turbine engine affordability. Dramatic improvements in engine affordability under the VAATE program will have both military and commercial application.

This is especially critical since the aerospace industry has been so hard hit in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Peters said.

"The events of Sept. 11 dramatically demonstrated to all Americans, in no uncertain terms, the extent of our nation's dependency on aerospace products and services for our national economy, economic prosperity and the quality of life we all enjoy."