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COVID-19 slows development of Army's new helicopter engines

Development of a new engine to power the U.S. Army's UH-60, AH-64E and future helicopters has been delayed due to issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army
Development of a new engine to power the U.S. Army's UH-60, AH-64E and future helicopters has been delayed due to issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

June 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army's development of new helicopter engines has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.

The COVID-19 virus interrupted the shipment of key components for the Improved Turbine Engine Program [ITEP], Patrick Mason, of the Army's Program Executive Office Aviation, said on Thursday.

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Design review of the engine -- to be manufactured by General Electric Aviation to power UH-60 Black Hawk and AH-64E Apache helicopters, as well as aircraft in the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft [FARA] program -- was moved up from the fourth quarter of 2020 to the second quarter, but has since been delayed to the third quarter.

The engines will replace the T700 engines currently in use.

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"We have actually started to execute the critical design review for ITEP," Mason said in a webinar sponsored by the Heritage Foundation. "With COVID, we weren't able to do that, so we are executing in third quarter. Our original baseline was fourth quarter of this fiscal year, so we will finish the CDR [critical design review] prior to the original plan."

"Hardware needs to be coming in the later part of this year so that we can test at the component level, assemble into the engine and then go to first engine test," Mason said.

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The extensive supply chain for the engine was disrupted by the pandemic, with production schedules for some components affected. GE Aviation also reduced its workforce during the pandemic.

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The next month or two will be critical for determining if the first engine test milestone is reached, Mason added.

The 3,000-horsepower engine will enhance output of the Army's current attack helicopters.

A heavier, higher-horsepower version is also expected to be installed in FARA aircraft, notably the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft designed to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk by 2030.

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