EVENDALE, Ohio — There’s something to be said about keeping secrets, and GE Aviation has done a pretty good job with that over the years. During the early 1980s, many of its employees built engines in a special assembly line, but never knew what aircraft the engine would fly.
“When they first started to produce these, they had to build a separate classified production line so the people in the manufacturing plant couldn’t know what they were making, and they were shipped in crates off to Burbank, California, to Lockheed Martin to put them in the jet,” said Cole Massie, media relations for GE Aviation.
Those engines powered the F-117 Stealth Fighter.
GE Aviation got its footing on military aviation, despite it being only about 15% of the work it does today. The major work the company does is tied to commercial aircraft engine building. As you drive along I-75, you can’t help but notice the gigantic GE Aviation facility in Evandale.
“The Air Force actually encouraged GE to buy this plant,” Massie said.
Over the years, GE Aviation played a critical role in every major combat situation, whether through its first venture into aviation technology ensuring World War II bombers could get to their target, or the A-10 Warthog flying inverted toward enemy tanks on the battlefield. Engineers continue to gain the eye of Air Force contracts.
“The Air Force is fielding the F-15EX, which is the most up-to-date version of the F-15, and the Air Force selected GE’s engine to power the first eight examples of that jet,” Massie said.
GE Aviation is also working on a prototype engine to attempt to revolutionize the Air Force fleet.
“This is the next generation of engine architecture,” said David Tweedie, general manager of Advanced Combat Engines for GE Aviation.
He says the XA100 hit the drawing board in 2007 and it’s taken this long to get full testing underway.
“Right now, it’s a prototype we’re looking forward to putting into production for the F-35 and the airplanes that come beyond the F-35,” Tweedie said. “We have now run the two prototype engines; currently running the second.”
The engine design is called adaptive and will seamlessly change fuel use based on the need of the pilot or situation in flight.
“Fighter engines are typically sized to maximize thrust at the expense of fuel efficiency,” said Tweedie.
The XA100, according to Tweedie, will change the game when it comes to that fuel efficiency component, extending the capability of the Air Force and any aircraft flying it.
“They will fly and operate the airplane the way they will normally do, and the engine will decide which mode is most appropriate based on what’s needed at that point,” Tweedie said.
The House of Representatives has given GE Aviation an expected deadline of 2027 for full production status.
It’s another engine in a long history of engines created in secret to maintain the military advantage over other countries.
“If you think about some of the secret programs that have come to light in the past, you think about the F-117 Stealth Fighter. That engine was built by GE under complete secrecy,” Massie said. “The B-2 has GE engines. Those were developed in secrecy. The U-2 spy plane has GE engines developed in secrecy, and GE has a history of working on classified and military products and this is the next in a long line of military programs.”
There are approximately 1,400 military veterans currently working at GE Aviation. The company was recently named a Top Veteran-Friendly Company by U.S. Veterans Magazine.