Rolls-Royce Reveals Attritable Engine Core Demo

Credit: Rolls-Royce

LOS ANGELES—Rolls-Royce LibertyWorks has completed rig tests on a small, low-cost gas turbine core developed using scalable design, manufacturing and materials techniques to meet emerging U.S. defense requirements for limited-life or attritable engines.

Rolls-Royce says the rapid prototyping project was completed from design to testing in less than a year at the company’s advanced technology unit in Indianapolis. Although no details have been released of the demonstrator core size or thrust class, Craig McVay, senior vice president of strategic campaigns at Rolls-Royce Defense, says “the important element is that it can be scaled to meet numerous needs we see in the expendable and attritable market for the Department of Defense.”

The U.S. Air Force is targeting a price range between $2 million and $20 million for an emerging class of attritable unmanned aircraft systems that are designed to be reusable surveillance platforms or hybrid cruise missiles depending on the mission. Propulsion system research for the limited-life applications, which range in power requirement from several hundred pounds to 20,000 lb. thrust, is underway at the Air Force Research Laboratory as part of the wide-ranging Advanced Turbine Technologies for Affordable Mission Capability (ATTAM) program. 

“This was a Rolls-Royce North America-funded program, undertaken while looking at the future needs of the Air Force, Navy, and Army. We believe that this puts us in a perfect position to provide a propulsion system of the future,” McVay says. Following initial rig tests, the company plans to use the core engine to demonstrate future low-cost and performance improvement technology.

While scalability was considered essential for the new demonstrator, McVay adds that “affordability was another key attribute. It was achieved through reduced part count and additive layer manufacturing of certain parts. We took an innovative approach to designing each component, with a focus on reducing cost to the lowest levels.”

Rolls says the rig tests provide “a foundation for future small engine demonstrators targeted at meeting the unique challenges of the limited-life propulsion market.” The company adds that the small engine demonstration also “serves as a tool to baseline analytical tools and models, which will allow for shortened design time on future small engine solutions.”

McVay says Rolls-Royce Indianapolis, which produces engines ranging from the Model 250 and newer RR300 turboshaft derivatives to the AE1107 and AE2100, leveraged its “vast experience with small-engine design and manufacturing to help enhance the design.”

Guy Norris

Guy is a Senior Editor for Aviation Week, covering technology and propulsion. He is based in Colorado Springs.