The Army has started testing its next-generation helicopter engine, the General Electric Aviation [GE]-built Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) system, both the service and the company said Wednesday.

The ITEP engine, which will power the Army’s AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters as well as its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), officially completed a “light off” milestone on Tuesday where fuel was ignited in the engine for the first time.

The Army’s GE T901 First Engine to Test installed in the test cell before initial engine light off. The engine’s light off marks the start of 100 hours of run time throughout the next two months to verify and validate engine performance models. Photo: General Electric

“We’re excited to get testing started on this engine. It’s the biggest milestone to date in the ITE program and the result of the strong collaboration between the GE and U.S. Army teams,” Tom Champion, GE Aviation’s program director, said in a statement. “The early testing data we’ve gathered indicates the engine is performing in line with our expectations and Army requirements.”

GE Aviation was awarded a $517 million contract in February 2019 to develop its T901 engine for ITEP (Defense Daily, Feb. 1 2019).

The “first engine to test” (FETT) for ITEP was originally slated for late fiscal year 2021, but was pushed into this year due to COVID-related delays. 

“[FETT] is the culmination of years of engineering design work that will verify and validate engine performance models through engine testing. To do this, the T901 is instrumented with over 700 sensors to capture performance data,” the Army wrote in a statement. “In total, the T901 FETT will complete over 100 hours of run time over the next two months as the engine undergoes a gradual break-in process that builds up to maximum power runs.”

GE Aviation noted testing of the first T901 engine is being performed in a newly upgraded test cell at its Lynn, Massachusetts facility, and will include running “a number of simulated flight conditions to collect performance data of the highly instrumented test engine.”

“The test cell upgrades include systems to absorb the increased power and allow no-load operation of the engine, improved instrumentation capability, and upgraded test controls,” GE Aviation said.

Upon completion of testing the first engine, the Army said the ITEP program will move into system qualification this summer where “the testing team will utilize multiple engines to test against Army Military Airworthiness Certification Criteria standards.”

Officials from Bell [TXT], one of the competitors for the Army’s FARA program, told reporters last week the company is set to receive the ITEP engine to integrate into its prototype aircraft in late 2022.

Chris Gehler, Bell’s vice president and program director for FARA, noted first flight for the FARA competitive prototypes has been pushed to early 2023 due to the delay in delivery of the ITEP engine (Defense Daily, March 17). 

The Army has selected Bell’s 360 Invictus and Sikorsky’s [LMT] Raider X designs for the FARA competitive prototyping (CP) phase as it looks to field a new scout attack helicopter.