Oct 11, 2017 | By Benedict

GE Aviation has completed testing on its T901-GE-900 turboshaft engine prototype, made for the U.S. Army’s Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) for Apache and Black Hawk helicopters. 3D printing was used to make components of the T901-GE-900 with “more advanced aerodynamic shapes.”

Following its impressive work on a partially 3D printed turboprop engine for the Cessna Denali aircraft, GE Aviation has returned with another remarkable feat of aerospace additive manufacturing. The T901-GE-900 turboshaft engine is designed to succeed the “legendary” T700 engine, which has been used in military helicopters like the Apache and Black Hawk for four decades.

“The T700’s modular engine architecture proved in austere operating conditions to be highly maintainable in a fix-forward, expeditionary environment while minimizing the logistics footprint and overall sustainment costs,” explained Ron Hutter, executive director of the T901 program.

The T901, however, could turn out to be even better than the T700, as the Army and its contractors look to make Apache and Black Hawk choppers suitable for use in higher and hotter conditions.

Made with “a significant number of additive parts,” the T901 builds upon GE’s 3D printing experience on the Cessna ATP and the best-selling LEAP and GE9X engines. These new 3D printed components offer a lower weight and “better performance and durability.”

GE says the the T901 even includes “an additive part that reduces an assembly of more than 50 subcomponents into one part,” resulting in a 20 per cent weight reduction.

And these aren’t just whimsical experiments with 3D printing either: the T901 is now certified for use, having exceeded ITEP performance requirements in the company-funded test engine.

The T901 engine tests were carried out over six months, ensuring that the engine will meet future ITEP power requirements, and testing of the prototype engine was followed by compressor, combustor, and turbine component testing at GE facilities in Lynn, Massachusetts, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Beyond the advanced design and hardware, the T901 features the latest diagnostic and prognostic tools with a modular architecture that provides the Army with the flexibility to improve readiness at the lowest life cycle costs,” Hutter said.

GE is making the T901 as part of a $102-million, 24-month contract with the U.S. Army, which will select a single supplier to complete the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of ITEP next year. The ultimate goal is to have a new turboshaft engine that offers 50 per cent more power, 25 per cent better fuel consumption, and reduced life cycle costs.

It’s innovations like 3D printed components and ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) that GE thinks will help the T901 to meet or exceed the Army's “aggressive performance targets.”

“With traditional machining and fabrication methods, individual parts are machined into finished parts from castings or forgings and built into assemblies using welding/brazing or bolted joints,” said Hutter. “On the T901, additive manufacturing reduces weight by minimizing attaching features in assemblies.”

Hutter added that GE’s use of 3D printing technologies also allowed for “more advanced aerodynamic shapes” on certain parts, leading to “better engine performance, reliability, and durability for the Army.”

CMC components will also be added to the T901 to improve performance and reduce weight. These parts improve efficiency in a different way to the 3D printed parts, by allowing less cooling air into the engine's hot areas.

So how do these 3D printing and CMC improvements translate into tangible performance benefits? According to GE, the improvement upon the old T700 is massive.

In the Black Hawk helicopter, use of the partially 3D printed T901 will increase range (with nine troops on board) from 100 km to a phenomenal 261 km—an improvement of 161 per cent. The payload on that same vehicle will also be increased from 2371 pounds to 5916 pounds.

The improvement is similarly noticeable on the Apache, whose range can be increased to 215 km from 100 km using the new engine.

Ultimately, the improved engine could mean up to 10 more troops and 93 more shells on board the Black Hawk, and 79 minutes more flight time for the Apache.

Following its impressive additive manufacturing handiwork, GE says it “stands ready to take the U.S. Army into the future of rotorcraft aviation.” We’ll find out soon if it does so.

Read the T901 white paper here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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SJ wrote at 2/15/2018 12:43:02 AM:

Does anyone how much is the intake airflow? 14 lb/s?

Matt Benvie wrote at 10/16/2017 10:04:27 PM:

Hi, I work for the program mentioned in this article. The T901 is not "certified for use," as stated in paragraph 7. It would have to be selected by the Army as the official powerplant of future Black Hawks and Apaches and then it would need to go through a length qualification program to achieve the designation. Qualification is the term for programs like these, whereas commercial applications use the term "certified."

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