F-16 Pilot Loves 2nd Engine

F-16 Pilot Loves 2nd Engine

The second great engine war, in which we are currently embroiled, offers many components of a fabulous story: national security, jet fighters, three great and combative companies, politicians and congressional experts and lobbyists and lots of cash. (So far we don’t have any sex, but a reporter can only hope.) Into that mix boldly strides a former F-16 pilot who just can’t keep his mouth shut while the second engine for the Joint Strike fighter’s fate is still uncertain. Read Robert Newton’s commentary on why he thinks the F-136 is a must have.

Single engine fighter pilots have a special perspective on their engines. From the life and death nature of their mission to the broader implications on the battle, they count on the engine to get them to the fight and win.

Today there is a dogfight between the Department of Defense (DOD) and Congress over the alternative engine program for the largest defense program ever, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

For those of us who lived the F-16 “Viper” experience with the Pratt & Whitney F100 and the General Electric F110 engines, silence is not an option. Too much is at stake and the relevant real-world lessons learned over decades of hard work, billions invested, and successful worldwide fighter operations are clear and profound.

There are volumes of information, metrics, reports, and books like The Air Force and the Great Engine War that describe the history, detail the lessons and highlight the value of a second jet engine source. As if these sources are not enough, I’ve talked to many others who operated the parent of the F-35, the F-16, for thousands of hours each and we broadly agree the alternative engine program for the JSF is essential.

From our first casual look at the F-16, we saw the blended wing-body that makes the jet look like an engine with wings on it and a prime perch with a bubble canopy for us to ride. Before we ever got into the cockpit though we “got smart” with a Pratt traveling road show called “know your engine.” This forum began as the direct result of the operational challenges that plagued us (and our maintainers) from the beginning of the F100 engine operations.

We were all impressed by the F100’s high thrust; however, in-flight we had performance shortfalls and throttle restriction that to some degree forced us to baby the motor in order to avoid engine problems: stalls and/or afterburner blow-outs. We often felt as if we were flying the engine as opposed to employing the aircraft.

Unfortunately the situation on the ground was even worse. The in-flight problems were difficult to resolve and reliability was a fraction of the requirement. Not to let us or the mission down, our maintainers made herculean efforts to keep our F-16s in the air. They would routinely remove and replace engines and the engine back shop would all too often tear them down completely. In a short time, engine shop operating budgets and manpower to perform all the unplanned maintenance snowballed and drove our maintenance squadrons to the brink of operational bankruptcy.

Then our world changed. The Pentagon saw the wisdom of introducing a second engine in the form of GE’s F-110 and we discovered an engine with unrestricted throttle movements, higher thrust, and the potential to actually meet all the reliability requirements. Yes, an engine could really do what we needed and politics succumbed to true solutions and performance. Of course GE was happy to be on the F-16, but there was also a spark in the eyes of Pratt’s working level engineers, mechanics, and managers who knew they could do better.

That initial spark of competition generated a new energy level that was unmistakable, impossible to quantify, of immeasurable benefit, and enduring. Now, for over 20 years the dull thud of complacency has been replaced with broad excitement and empowered performance. When we had problems or new technical opportunities, the creative minds of each team made it theirs and in turn set new standards of excellence for both engines.

The bottom line results are historic and unmistakable: dramatically improved combat capability and our war fighting advantage. Some say we can’t afford an alternative engine for the F-35. For those of us who flew F-16s, it is crystal clear that we can’t afford to not have a second source!

Robert Newton, CEO of Newton Consulting & Engineering Inc., is a former F-16 pilot and test pilot with over 3,000 hours in over 35 types of aircraft. He spent 26 years as an Air Force officer, fighter pilot, test pilot and acquisition professional. [Eds. note: Newton says he is not doing business with any of the companies involved in the engine wars.]

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This would be a good argument were it not for the fact that 100% of the US Air Force’s combat-coded F-16C/Ds are powered by GE’s F110, and 100% of the USAF’s F-15s are powered by P&W’s F100 — despite the availability of competing engines. All US Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18A/B/C/Ds are powered by GE’s F404 and all F/A-18E/Fs by GE’s F414. Having two engine types reduces the risk that a problem will ground the entire fleet, but operators have not seen it as essential.

The Marines have said they want only one engine across their STOVL F-35B fleet, and the Navy has said it does not want to support two engine types on any one aircraft carrier. So when it comes the reduced operational risk of a mixed fleet, only the US Air Force looks likely to benefit — but it is the biggest customer, with plans to buy 1,763 CTOL F-35As (55% of the 9 partner nations’ planned total).

But the JSF program started out with a dual-engine strategy because nine partner nations planned to neck down from nine aircraft types to just one, and a second engine mitigated risk. A single engine, therefore, increases risk.

Verdict: It’s hard to argue with a customer who no longer wants competition when the operators have historically not made engine diversity a priority.

As a Tomcat alum I have to say that the need for a second (better) engine is a function of picking the first one poorly. With the exception of an afterburner burn-through issue (that killed a good friend of mine), the F-110 was a much better motor than the P&W TF-30 end-to-end.

Choice (competition) almost always is a good thing. The F136 needs to be further developed, not only to make Pratt more accountable, but to see if we can get a slightly more powerful and/ or efficient engine.

The difference between then an now is that we are moving toward a TACAIR fleet comprise almost entirely of F-35s. What does this mean? First you are handing a monopoly over to P&W if you go the one engine route. WIth little R&D money going out to anything but the F135 GE may be unable to fully compete for future military fighter attack engine competitions (assuming that something comes after F-35).

Next, a single engine problem no longer affect a single service. So if the Air Force is going through a major engine problem then the Navy can’t pick up the slack as easily. They too will have aircraft availability problems.

Lastly in that single service, as previosly pointed out, the F-15s could with P&W engines could pick up the slack for an F-16 GE fleet with a problem or vice versa. With so few F-22s that’s not a realistic option for the USAF. The Navy will have F/A-18E/F/Gs, but if “Gen 5″ is so indespensible they’ll be SOL for the tougher missions.

Part 2
So is it worth $2.9B of development costs to get an F136 qualified on a program with 2443 aircraft to avoid monopoly price gouging, keep the supplier base, and mitigate the problems caused by a single engine TACAIR fleet? When you consider that no one cared when the program went $150B to $180B over budeget , this is a drop in the bucket that provides many benefits in my opinion.

Funny how Gates thinks going with the existing F-35 JSF plan (MOU updated in Dec 2009 with same two engine language (where was Gates then if he felt it was such a big issue?)) is suddenly bad at the cost of a few billion yet Gates doesn’t have a problem with the idea of spending tens of billions on under-tested LRIP mistake-jets before full rate production kicks in in 2016 (was 2014).

Of course Gates has always been right about the F-35 program.

” …about $77 million per copy.“
–Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Feb. 2008.

The impact of technology break-thrus are unforetunately lacking in the former pilot’s discussion… commenting on the F100-200 engine with the basic engine electronic control and UFC (which was state of the art at the time) and yes had its limitations and comparing it to a Digital elcetronic control and MFC/AFC is equivalent to comparing the 60’s automobile’s carb’d standard transmission to the 80’s fuel injected automatics… it is more a function of technology advancements then it is lack of design.

And, the comments relative to a monopoly… I might agree with you if we were talking about a truly open marketplace but the military market place is not even close to the civilian marketplace… and in the military market place you have DCMA and the DCAA which looks for quality and price reasonable-ness and if they do not meet then the contractor is held liable… so there are government entities that manage that aspect because there are times when the government requirement can only be met by 1 source… unless you are trying to say DCMA and DCAA are not doing their jobs?? And BTW, the government Depot’s routinely “break out” the parts to non OEM sources so there is competition in the aftermarket… so lets spend the money upfront to get the best design we can give our airmen to keep our country safe and let the auditors ensure fair pricing and good quality… which is what we pay them to do with our taxes…

Does anybody remember what brought on “The Great Engine War”? We were up to our asses in broke F100/200 Engines. Engine readiness got so bad that we had to put the F110 Engine in the F-16 because of single engine flight safety. Also, Non-conforming parts coming from the OEM was the norm…sorry but DCMA and DCAA were signing off on them too. I was on a Quality Audit Team investigating F100/200 difuser cases produced by the OEM (we had one blow up in flight). We reviewed hundreds of SPC data sheets and found few actually met specs. We also reviewed fuel controls, pumps and hot section partsand shut down production linesdue to assembly issues. We were also bombarded with “technology breakthru” but hot section design did not live up to expectations period. We got 300 TACS out of 600 or 900 TAC engines, the logistics pipeline could not keep up. Good people worked hard, some died trying, but not until the F110 Engine came on line with the threat of replacing all F-15 and F-16 Engines did things get the attention they needed.

Explain “burn through” for the laymen here if you don’t mind. Sounds bad. Sorry about your friend, sir.

Good article here explains the basics:

I totally agree with Mr. Newton that we need two engine types for the F-35. I worked on both the F-15 and F-16 and both engines used in these platforms and both had problems. From the oldest F-100’s with all the afterburner blowout problems to the F-110’s with the fan blade problems, there absolutely needs to be competition and a second source. With a single engine aircraft, it is your bread and butter.

I don’t know that I would compare the JSF engine programs to the F-16’s F100/F110 engine programs: the F110 was a different beat than the lower-thrust F100, a difference of approx. 6000pounds thrust more (upwards of 29,000pounds thrust, compared to not quite 24,000pounds in the original F100 engine), an increase of 20–25% over the F100 (depending where you get your figures).
That makes considerable difference for a combat-loaded aircraft.

Far as I’ve ever read, both JSF engines are marginally comparable in thrust: unlike the F-16’s engines, neither of the JSF’s powerplants offers a similar 20–25% thrust advantage over the other.

There is a big difference between competition and managed pricing compliance. Innovation and cost reductions come almost exclusively from the former.

Having been the guest of a Martin-Baker ride due to a “Pratt and Quitney” J52-P408 a few years back, I’m aware that engine makers sometimes don’t tell the whole story.

During the accident investigation, off the record the P&W rep told the safety center guys that they had a turbine come apart on the test stand due to a casting flaw in the turbine disk. However, under oath the same rep denied knowledge of any problems with the engine. It was a brand new aircraft that we strained through the trees, so I’m guessing P&W was worried about liability rather than doing the right thing.

Having a second engine option especially for a single engine a/c gives you a lot more operational flexibility if one of the manufacturers has reliability problems.

Interestingly enough, the USN said they would “never” buy another single engine aircraft while lobbying to buy the F-18 to replace the A-7. “Too many losses of a/c due to single engine failures due to combat or accidental damage” they said.

Guess we never learn.

Don’t fully agree Anymouse… that might be the case for the commercial marketplace with completely open competition… with continual purchases… the government process is different… inovation comes in the form of a Component Improvement Programs (including VAATE and other programs) in which the OEM and the government engineering works to develop improvements.. which brings up a critical issue.. when you have dual engine lines the CIP program funding is split and it causes fixes for issues to be dragged on for years and years.. extending the fleet risks for many years and adding costs to these programs… single source the fix is driven in much faster and cost a lot less in the long run… but no one seems to consider that…

Works both ways. No doubt GE has it’s marketers working OT trying to get some sucker onboard with the F136. Truth is we don’t need it. Funny how everybody reaches for the F100 / F110 when trying to make their case. Why don’t they reach for other examples? That’s right, because there really aren’t any. Most aircraft have only had a single choice of engine. Many times the SAME engine has powered multiple TYPES of aircraft. Just look at the J-57, J-79, and J-75. The Hornet only has the F404, the Super Hornet only has the F414. Harrier? Just the Pegasus. B-1B? F101. F-4? F-105? F-104? B-52? (No, you couldn’t swap out the J57s for TF33s or vice versa.) Seeing a pattern yet?

Well, there’s also the Westinghouse J40, and it was routine for the first Navy jets to be built and flown with two different dash numbers for two different engine suppliers in the same airframe (F9F-2 vs. F9F-3). So it wasn’t uncommon–at least, early on–for multiple engines to be procured.

And I take your point about the J79, but it’s not as though every J79 was exactly the same; even in the F-4, the J79 was continually being upgraded and changed over time.

This is an important point, and it’s one that a lot of people seem to gloss over in the whole “competition produces quality” debate.

It was bad.


JetDoc, in a perfect world that might work. I’ve been on the other side of having only one engine manufacturer on a few air vehicles.…cost overruns, engine modification costs, CIP budget cost, engine overhaul costs…all are greater when compared to a weapon system with two engines. One reason for this cost increase is do to hardware not being reliable enough…especially in the engines hot section.

Right on…I was there too as a JETMECH.

Hello Erin.…and P&W is not????? The acft you list above are multi engine acft and not single engine fighters being launched of aircraft carriers…bad comparison. Also, the majority of the acft you listed were all flying around the same decades. As you know, the F119 and F135 (if it is the only engine in the F35) will be the only fighter engines around after 2025 or 2030. It would be the DoD’s BIGGEST mistake to have basically the same engine power the F22 and F35.…god forbid either of these two engines have blades and or their disks liberate.…our Air Forces and those of our Allies would be very vulnerable if we have only one engine power the F35..

Drake…not so. I was in the USAF and my last assignment at the HQ was the F16 and F15 Programs and there are several F100 powered F16’s that are combat coded…all of them stateside. However, all the USAFE and PACAF F16’s are GE F110 powered. Keep in mind, the F35 is a single engine fighter like the F16…it’s in this type of single engine airframe application where having an alternate engine does pay back significant dividends.…one being safety. Also, if you can get enough operators from the services, there is no doubt the GE powered acft get a higher score. When we qualified the F110 in the F15 at Nellis in the mid 90’s, all the pilots were amased how well it performed in every part of the envelope.

Amazed.…darn spell checker.

Why is it only the F-16/F100 & F-35/F135 ‘need’ an alternative engine? Why not EVERY aircraft/engine…

A few of other points missed.

1. The F-15 & F-16 were pushing the flight envelope well beyond previous aircraft — something the F-35 is not doing (AND the F135 is based on the already proven F119).

2. ‘Fixing the F100’ was delayed many years by disagreement between P&W (which wanted to develope new, higher thrust F100s) & the USAF (which wanted the existing engines fixed & did NOT want higher thrust F100s).

3. How is the more risky/costly less well developed F136 supposed to ‘save us’ from the superpbly performing F135?

Jet Doc, would like to better understand your perspective. It’s just counter to my experience and it reflects the crux of the broader acquisition problems within the DoD in my opinion. While the defense market is more of a monopsony it is anything but homogeneous and discrete. Consequently the dynamics of innovation and progress remain and managed programs that ignore the art of design/development and the human element get lost.
When I referenced the improvement we saw with the F110 I was comparing it to the –220 which was of common vintage. Similarly, the IPE’s (F110-129, F100-229) were technologically comparable. While I’d really enjoy getting into a discussion on UFCs, BUCs, DEECs, DECs, SECs and other technical aspects of the motors as well as the programmatics, suffice it to say that with the second source the cycle of improvement sped up, took much greater leaps, and yielded a much higher return on investment than what we’d seen previously.

That’s something I really wonder why nobody is discussing…GE has the benefit of doing everything on paper with the F136. Of course they’re going to present a superior alternative! It’s easy to design something when you can pretend that the customer will be flexible on requirements that you can’t meet.

sferrin — did you miss the point of the article? The author was discussing the need of multiple engine sources when fielding single engine aircraft.

What are people not understanding about the aricle? It is about Single Engine aircraft. That is one reason people feel compelled to discuss engine competition for the F16/F100 and the F35/F135.

If the F136 is the pig you indicate…then PW should welcome the chance to thrash it in competition. They can show their superiority in direct competition. But I think we all know that the F136 is a great engine that is definitely up to the task.

If competition for defense contracts meant innovation and reduced price, then what the hell happened with FIA?

pfcem makes some good points. One of the reasons the F100-PW-100 had so many bugs to work out was due to the fact that with the F-15 and F-16 (both major improvements over say the F-4 Phantom in terms of agility) pilots were pushing these new aircraft to the limit. The number of engine cycles the F100 was subjected to was much higher than predicted. The F100 was also a huge step foward from previous afterburning turbofan and so there were naturally some bugs to work out. The F-15 also had it’s own teething problems upon entering service.

It may have taken awhile but P&W did get the engine situtation under control and the F100-PW-220 largely fixed the reliability problems although there was a small decrease in thrust. P&W had been working on higher thrust models but the USAF did not pursue these until the F100-PW-229.

In my opinion the introduction of the F110-GE as an alternative powerplant for the F-16 was a good decision as it ensured we had at least two engine suppliers and helped drive competition. However the F-15 and F-16 were well proven and had been in production for years by then. As it stands now the F135 is based on the F119 (already a proven and extremely capable engine used by the F-22). The F135 won’t be suffering the same sort of problems the F100 had.

That said, it may be worth restarting development of the F136 if and only if in a few years from now the F-35 is proving to successful and is being built in large numbers. Lets wait for the program to deliever before we worry about a second engine.

There are a few assumptions woven into the comment threads that merit additional questioning and consideration.
1. Assumption that the Pratt F135 engine is flawed, will fail and ground the fleet, and that this problem will not plague the F136.
2. Assumption that the GE F136 is infallible and can shoulder the load if an F135 issue grounds the fleet. (note the prospect of the F135 shouldering the load of a fleet grounding due to an F136 issue obviates the entire F136 argument)
3. Assumption that competition sparks quality improvement in production. Price-based competition could potentially increase quality risk as pressure to perform on a thin margin becomes paramount.

Bottom line is the DoD had already weighed the risks and decided on a single engine strategy in an open competition. This is further supported by DoD’s current position where no combat aircraft enjoys the purported benefits of a dual-engine strategy. Granted I did not serve during the great engine war, nor experience what our pilots and maintainers suffered through, but to assume no learnings occurred in both the manufacturer and government management teams is a strong assumption.

It appears that the pro F-136 contingent can boil their position down to two arguments:
#1 Competition will provide innovation and reliability and management will not.
#2 Alternate engines are required for single engine combat aircraft because testing cannot reveal potentially fatal flaws.

Concerning both arguments, a more logical solution is to have better project management and testing, rather than spending billions more on an engine that is a bigger gamble than the current engine. (The F135 has a track record via the F119 while the F136 only has paper promises.) I have a hard time swallowing the argument that project management alone CANNOT produce enough incentives to P&W to ensure they produce a quality engine. I also have a hard time swallowing the argument that testing CANNOT reveal fatal flaws before they ground the entire fleet. Clearly, if we hold the program managers to an appropriate standard, then the F136 becomes a moot point.

Competition, like profit and capitalism are not bad things — if they are fully embraced. As an F-16 operational pilot and test pilot of the F-16, F-15 and X-35 I can attest to the need for an alternative engine. During the 80’s and 90’s we were grounded numerous times for engine problems relative to one engine type. At times half our squadron’s aircraft were holes (airframes without engines). It’s more expensive initially to bid and build two engines but in the long run, it’s a money saver.

Although your argument is valid and you are right, it would work with proper management, there is an element that makes your argument mute, it’s called politics. The problem is that when you try to manage P&W, they run to their Senator and other allies in Congress, and they get you shut down or overturned. Having GE around is like having a big stick to beat them over the head with, and also it gives you some Congressional power of your own. I know it shouldn’t be this way, but it is.

This is an excellent story and these are some great comments. Most of these comments are from people with experience, not armchair quarterbacks (ALLONS) who want to shut down the DoD and spend all of that money on welfare. My experience comes from actually testing both the F100 and F110, yes in an actual test cell, not hush house. We do this on a regular basis. We had lots of problems with the F100-100, the F100-220 is an improvement. We do not test the F100-229, so I don’t know about that one. At test, we have a lot less problems with the F110 than we do the F100s, but either way we fix the problem and sell off the engine.

The real problem is support from the manufacturer. GE is much easier to deal with, their engineers will give you the information and technical support you need, P&W on the other hand, are VERY difficult to deal with. Everything with them is considered “proprietary” information and they are constantly trying get your workload, so that they can take it and then contract it out themselves. The reason the F100 is now a good engine IS due to the F110, that’s the only thing that keeps P&W in line. So yes, we NEED the F-136, and for that matter, we need the F-120 for the Raptor. Yes, we need more Raptors too.

Will this argument ever die? Isn’t the existing engine performing well enough in flight test? I’d wager the losing competitor is stoking this from the sidelines. We don’t ‘NEED’ squat.

To ask a question that has not yet been asked:
If the P&W JSF engine candidate is so good, why is it that that engine program is undergoing a special cost review led by OSD/AT&L? I do not personally know if a “performance” review is also involved.
I think it is disingenuous to state that the P&W candidate is sufficient to meet the need, if it is coming under such additional scrutiny.

With all due respect to those of you with experience in the F100/F110 programs, it is good to know what solution worked in that particular instance. However, knowing what worked in that particular instance does not definitively mean that we need the same solution today. In statistics (I’m in research), we call that an N=1 inference fallacy, meaning that you can’t validly draw concrete conclusions from a single example. In fact, your experience may be blinding you to other options.
To all F136 supporters, I advise you to think carefully about what the AF should be spending its monetary AND political capital on. In today’s economic climate, budgetary cutbacks are a fact of life, and I can virtually guarantee that any money spent on the F136 is going to be viewed as waste by a majority of taxpayers and lawmakers. That means less support for JSF in general, and will almost undoubtedly result in a net loss of resources for the F-35 community. This is the wrong fight to pick. Even if you win this one, you’re shooting yourself in the foot for support down the road.

I cannot understand why the AF does not, or cannot do what the Army and Navy do — take a proven design like the F135 and split the procurement bid between two contractors. The Army does not buy all its M4s/M16s from one supplier. The Navy splits submarine and destroyer contracts between builders using the same design. Why can’t the AF do this? Keep GE in the fighter engine business, introduce competition between contractors and avoid the cost of developing a second design. Why is no one talking about this option?

The second engine solution is NOT efficient. Private industry would demand the original supplier get the original product right, or suffer the consequences. Hold the prime contractor accountable. Introduce a second manufacturing contractor with the same design if necessary. Avoid the completely inefficient attitude of, “this is how we did it in the 80s, and that’s the only way it can be done today.” It is DOD’s fault that our procurement process can’t seem to grasp and implement these concepts. I hope the F-16 community can start helping this situation instead of clinging to what worked for the Vipers.

@DAB — As you point out, cost and performance are connected but not identical unrelated issues. Cost has much more to do with efficient management of the program. And cost is only going to skyrocket if we decide to go through the exact same process with a second design. If we implement efficient management, cost can be controlled. There has been absolutely no indication that performance is currently an issue.

we can’t even agree on another rifle for the troops and the stakes here are higher. I would gladly take the 6.8mm SPC from Bushmaster. They are dumping most of thier SCAR-L [5’56mm] BUT are keeping the 7.62 H model and the sniper version. Nothing changes…

Ryan. Perhaps you can open you sample size to competition as a whole…at which point you’re at roughly N= a billion.

So we should cancel the F-35 program while the Russians push forward with their Sukhoi T-50 fighter and the Chinese push forward with their J-XX (J-14) 5th generation fighters? “Yes the USAF should only have 187 F-22s and cap it at that for the rest of the next 50 years?” (I say with sarcasm) I think not! We need both fighters in greater numbers than currently ordered!

Actually … no. You are incorrect. You’re making an apples-to-oranges comparison. You’re trying to say that standard market competition (Ford vs. Chevy) is an appropriate analog. It isn’t. The appropriate analog would actually be Chevrolet deciding that two different parts suppliers would build two separate engine designs for the Corvette. If Chevrolet ever did make such an inefficient decision, GM’s board of directors would start counting coup on the Corvette programs’ managers in a real hurry.

You’re probably right that there are other examples of this sort of competition working out for the prime contractor. But for now, it’s still very much an N=1 inference fallacy. Besides, if you just want some competition, my suggestion in the following post, to use GE as second manufacturing contractor with the F135 design, is a much more efficient way to introduce free market incentives.

If competition is the only answer, then I suggest the AF follow my recommendation on the next page of posts — use GE as a second manufacturing contractor using the same F135 design. That negates the political maneuvering you mentioned, while also negating the need to develop a second design. Let the best engine builder win. Other services use this approach to great success, particularly the Navy. There is no reason the AF could not as well.

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