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Breakthrough: P&W's New Hybrid-Electric Propulsion Technology To Achieve 30% Improvement In Fuel Efficiency Against Modern Turboprop -- Ashmita Sethi, President, P&W India

P&W is the powerhouse of aerospace engineering for its after burning turbofan engine for the world’s only operational 5th gen fighter aircraft -- F-35 and F-22 Raptor. India is on course to develop its very own 5 gen multi role fighter jet—AMCA. While Navy and IAF are gunning for Deck Based Fighter and 114 MRFA fighter program. Could P&W collaborate on such futuristic program with govt.of India? BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha speaks with Ashmita Sethi, President and Country Head, P&W on such critical technologies and the possibilities that could propel India leaf frog into building next gen advance aero engine. She also opens up on technological breakthroughs/R&D as the new hybrid-electric propulsion technology and Ceramic matrix composites will set forth the new era of aviation.

Photo Credit : P&W


P&W's F135-engine-on-assembly-line which powers F -35

                           Ashmita Sethi, President and Country Head, Pratt & Whitney

Pratt & Whitney is looking at breakthrough in new Hybrid Electric Propulsion (HEP)Technology. HEP Will potentially start off new era in ever so complex aero engine tech from already established geared turbofan (GTF). P&W powers world's only 5th Generation Fighter jet engine F-135 for F-35 & F-129 for USAF's F-22; Still an enigma of human engineering and innovation. In an exclusive, I spoke with P&W's President Ashmita Sethi on such advancement but crucially, what could P&W do with India or India could find greater scope and scale with P&W.  On technological breakthrough, Ashmita talks about the ultra complex R&D in Additive manufacturing, Advance materials, Ceramic Matrix Composites( CMCs) in Carlsbad, California. While P&W does have center in Bangalore at IISc on combustion & design elements. Another potential --SARAS MKI-- is being fitted with P&W's PT6A turboprop engine. How fast can we add it to 'make it India' at least component wise? Look at civil aviation revolution in India and there is a need to have some foundation in  advance propulsion system. For IAF's 114 MRFA program, P&W offers power engine F100-229 for upgraded F 15-EX. How can we leverage and embrace the most advanced technology like jet engine? India's capabilities must leapfrog now-- from Tejas Mk2 to AMCA to that illusive jet engine. Excerpts:

The recent approval by the cabinet Committee on Security opens the acquisition of Airbus C295-- a multi-role transport aircraft which is powered by two Pratt & Whitney’s PW127G (a part of the PW-100 family) engines. What are the terms of collaboration? Will it broaden the scope of aerospace in terms of building advance manufacturing capability like aero engine in India?

We are delighted that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has selected the C295 from Airbus Defence and Security (ADS) and we congratulate them for once again successfully demonstrating the aircraft’s unique capabilities to an important customer. We cannot comment on the specification of the contract, as they are confidential. 

We are proud that our PW127G engines power the C295, which is globally recognized as the next generation of Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) and light and medium transport aircraft. The C295’s twin PW127G engines feature low-fuel burn during cruise and enable exceptional range and endurance for time-critical missions.

Airbus C 295

 As it does in many jurisdictions around the world, the C295, when in service for Indian Air Force, will fly vital missions in the service of the country’s some 1.3 billion citizens.

India is on course to develop its very own 5-generation multirole fighter jet—AMCA which is expected to enter service in the next decade. This is in line with the Lockheed Martin’s F 35 which is again powered by Pratt & Whitney F135 which is an afterburning turbofan engine. Any possibility to collaborate on such futuristic program of India?

It is great to see the developments in India’s indigenous fighter programs, ever since India has accelerated its ‘Aatmnirbhar Bharat’ vision. There are a few indigenous fighter jet platforms in India in very early stages of consideration and development – including the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and the Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF).  

The 114 MRFA fighter acquisition program remains a key path towards India’s fighter jet self-reliance ambitions – and we want to power India’s F-15EX with our F100-PW-229 engines. 

As makers of the world’s first operational fifth-generation engine, the F119 for USAF’s F-22, the world’s most advanced fighter engine, the F135 for the F-35, and the revolutionary GTFTM (Geared Turbofan) engine, we have a history and expertise with advanced propulsion systems which is unmatched in the world.  

At Pratt & Whitney, we have access to vast R&D resources, ranging from artificial intelligence and big data, to manufacturing breakthroughs, emerging digital technologies and new engine development. 

We continue to use these to lead the way and deliver next-generation engine technologies tailored to meet the needs of our diverse customers. Engine performance and development are critical components for advancing new platforms – and at Pratt & Whitney, we are happy to engage with our customers on any opportunities that they see fit for us in the long term. 

IAF is gearing up for the 114 fighter jets program (MMRCA 2). Boeing F-15 EX is part of the program which is again powered by Pratt & Whitney’s F100 engines. Though, F-15EX is upgraded, how does the P&W’s F 100 improve upon the new upgrades? 

The F100-229 is a proven and established engine that is fully capable of integrating with the F-15EX and will provide the reliability, mission readiness, and high performance the Indian Air Force needs to accomplish its most critical missions. Trusted by the U.S. Air Force to power every operational F-15 in its fleet for 40+ years, the F100 is the right choice to power India’s MMRCA 2.

The F100-PW-229 is technologically fully capable of powering the most challenging missions against any adversary – now and in the future. The engine’s fully modular architecture ensures ease of maintenance and incorporates leading edge technologies in materials, cooling, and health management including some advanced 5th generation technology. The latest upgraded F100-PW-229 is also fully capable of integrating with the F-15EX’s fly-by-wire flight control system.  

These superior features, along with quality and value over the entire lifecycle, make the F100-PW-229 a superior propulsion system. Our engines already power critical platforms like the C-17 Globemaster, which performs essential humanitarian and military missions for India, and we are confident that the F100-PW-229 will be the engine of choice for India’s future needs.  

P&W and National Aeronautics Laboratory (NAL) have collaborated on NAL’s Multirole Light Transport Aircraft, the SARAS (MKI). How is it unfolding? What is the engine capability and other elements of the cooperation?

Pratt & Whitney has been an integral propulsion partner for the NAL-SARAS MKI with our PT6A turboprop engine. Pratt & Whitney Canada and National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL) have been working together for more than a decade on the development of NAL’s multirole light transport aircraft, SARAS. 

With over 600 engines in operation in India supporting more than 50 operators, the PT6A has a strong support network in place and brings the advantage of cost-effectiveness and reliability to the aircraft it powers. 

P&W's PT6_A140 engine for SARAS( photo: P&W)

Pratt & Whitney’s APUs also power India’s Netra Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&CS), that has been indigenously modified from the Embraer E145J. The APS1000 APUs provide Netra’s ground power and bleed air, and power its critical mission equipment.

P&W’s India R&D center is engaged in the research in the areas of advanced materials, combustion and mechanical design among others. I understand the center also recently expanded its capabilities to include research in advanced gas turbine technologies. Could you share the scope of research and its outcome especially in the area of advance materials?

Pratt & Whitney strongly believes in India’s potential to contribute significantly towards next-gen aerospace propulsion technologies. That’s why we have had a Research & Development (R&D) presence in-country for more than a decade – through our Center of Excellence (COE) at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. 

Since the COE’s establishment in 2012, Pratt & Whitney and members of the faculty at IISc, have been engaged in state-of-the-art research in the areas of advanced materials, combustion, and mechanical design. The center also recently expanded its capabilities to include research in advanced gas turbine technologies and some projects on additive manufacturing. 

The team at center – led by Dheepa Srinivasan, who was recently recognized as the 2020 Woman Engineer of the Year by the Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE) – also identifies and monitors new collaborations and projects with leading universities in India, including IIT, Bombay and University of Hyderabad.

Apart from R&D, India also provides a great mix of aerospace talent and innovation – and has the potential to be a hub for next-gen aerospace technology startups. Aligned to government’s ‘Startup India’ vision, we are actively engaged with the aerospace startup ecosystem. 

Collaborating with T-Hub Hyderabad, we launched an innovation challenge that invited global startups to simplify aircraft engine inspection using technologies like computer vision and artificial intelligence. The innovation challenge saw participation from over 70 start-ups from 14 countries – and 2 out of the 3 start-up finalists were from India. We are now working with the finalist to further enhance their ideas for potential applications. 

Globally, we are deploying the use of advanced robotics, automation and additive manufacturing technologies to further enhance the level of operational effectiveness in our facilities. 

For example, at our Component Aerospace Singapore facility, we’re making strong progress in additive manufacturing with the first-in-MRO application of 3D printing for aero-engine component detail. 

We have a new 60,000 square-foot facility in Carlsbad, California, that will be dedicated to the design, development and production of Ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) for aerospace applications. CMC materials are lightweight and can be used to manufacture engine parts that are one-third the weight of traditional metallic parts and have temperature capabilities that are several hundred degrees higher. CMC parts will enhance and build upon the sustainability and efficiency benefits the GTF engine already provides to customers.

P&W has the world’s most advance engine program based on turbofan while on the other side the P&W is exploring the hybrid electric engines and alternative fuels. Could you share the update on such advancement?  What is the breakthrough? 

The Pratt & Whitney GTF™ engine is already delivering next-generation technology, fuel economics and environmental performance, today. As the quietest, greenest, most efficient engine family available for single-aisle aircraft, GTF engines are delivering up to 20% improved fuel efficiency, 50% lower regulated emissions and 75% smaller noise footprint. But we’re not stopping there. 

In India, GTF engines power more than 180 A320neo family aircraft for GoFIRST and IndiGo, and have saved more than 150 million gallons (580 million liters) of fuel, avoided over 1.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions, and gained more than 2.8 million hours of experience. 

This award-winning design has changed the game in commercial aviation and is the kind of innovation that will continue to deliver economic value to airlines and passengers, while also dramatically reducing our environmental footprint – as India focuses on sustainable flying in the near future. Our GTF engines have a long runway for growth, and we continue to invest R&D in digital technologies, additive manufacturing, advanced high-temperature materials and hybrid-electric propulsion. 

We are also enabling our customers to deliver cleaner, greener, and more sustainable air travel. We recently announced our plans to advance our hybrid-electric propulsion technology and flight demonstrator program as part of a $163M CAD (Canadian Dollars) investment, supported by the governments of Canada and Quebec.

The new hybrid-electric propulsion technology will drive significant improvements in aircraft efficiency by optimizing performance across the different phases of flight, allowing the demonstrator to target a 30% improvement in fuel efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions, compared to a modern regional turboprop airliner. 

Pratt & Whitney Canada is working with De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited (De Havilland Canada) to integrate this hybrid-electric technology into a De Havilland Canada Dash 8-100 flight demonstrator. 

hybrid-electric propulsion technology demonstrator- Dash 8-100(  Credit: P&W India )

This demonstrator will include an advanced electric motor and controller from Collins Aerospace, also a Raytheon Technologies business. We will target ground testing in 2022, leading to flight testing of the Dash 8-100 demonstrator in 2024.

While developing hybrid-electric propulsion technology is a core element of Pratt & Whitney’s strategy to make aviation more sustainable – the company is also committed to continually advancing the efficiency of gas turbine engines across its portfolio, while supporting the wider use of sustainable aviation fuels, and pursuing alternative fuels. All these elements will be critical for the aviation industry to meet its goals to significantly reduce CO2 emissions by 2050.

P&W’s is well known for its cutting jet engine. Could you share your projects in the Space domain? 

Pratt & Whitney is investing in new technologies across its portfolio that will power the future of aviation. 

There are exciting innovations taking place in the private space tourism sector and in July the Unity 22 made is successful flight. The carrier aircraft, White Knight Two is powered by four PW308 engines and our teams have been working with Virgin Galactic for the last 10+ years on this project.