$1 billion contract a boost for GE Aviation

Two rival U.S. manufacturers have each landed $1 billion contracts to develop next-generation fighter jet engines that could one day power the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and future military aircraft, officials say.

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center awarded the contracts to Evendale-based GE Aviation and Pratt & Whitney of East Hartford, Conn., both of which have been working for years on the technology under prior contracts.

An aviation analyst said the deal gives hope to GE that it could one day land more military jet engine contracts.

“Just when it looked like GE would be frozen out of future combat aircraft production, this new development initiative comes along to keep their hopes alive,” Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with Virginia-based Teal Group, wrote in an email Friday.

Aboulafia said GE’s experience with a variable cycle engine development could give the engine maker “an edge” in the technology’s advancement.

“It could keep them alive, even if Pratt & Whitney will get much of the upfront F-35 and B-21 orders,” he said.

The Adaptive Engine Transition Program contracts, in effect through 2021, continue work that started under two prior contracts. At GE, the new deal will support about 400 full-time, mostly engineering jobs at GE in Evendale.

A Pratt & Whitney spokesman Friday could not provide the number of jobs the contract would support for the Connecticut-based manufacturer. The Air Force has spent $900 million on the prior contract with both firms.

GE Aviation spokesman Matthew Benvie said the new technology would expand the performance range of the engine combining thrust with fuel efficiency found in commercial airliners. Today, fixed-cycle engines focus primarily on one capability or the other.

”It’s uniquely fitting for military applications that they need to get in and out of a zone very quickly and you want to have max power,” he said. “But if they’re at cruise or they’re headed back to a base, maybe it makes more sense for them to operate more like a regular commercial jetliner, which this technology allows them to do.”

Work will begin in 2017 and conclude with ground tests. The Air Force could opt for a flight demonstration test, he said.

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson has worked with the two companies to develop the new engines.