Despite drawing equal amounts of praise and ire, the F-35 program is in a continual process of progressing as the airframe surpasses 100,000 hours of flight time. An expensive piece of kit, the aircraft has conjured up arguments as to whether it is suitable in today’s military environment and if the price is commensurate with performance. Any aviation forum site chosen is rife with F-35 discussions; however, one aspect that seems to get less attention is the F135 turbofan engine that powers the fighter.
Although the F135 has had its fair share of issues, the engine draws on decades of Pratt & Whitney knowhow and past designs to ensure that risk is mitigated and success viable. As a descendant of the F119, itself a fifth-generation engine powering the F-22, the F135 calls on a proven heritage.
Unlike the F-22, the F-35 is a single-engine aircraft and therefore needs immense power to propel it. The engine produces an augmented power of 43,000 pounds of thrust that pushes the aircraft to an impressive Mach 1.6. And Pratt & Whitney has developed a Growth Option 1.0 upgrade that gives the engine a 6-10 percent thrust increase across the F-35 flight envelope.
The F135 powerplant comes in three variants, as does the F-35 itself. The F135-PW-100 powers the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A. The -600 is coupled to a lift fan that gives the F-35B a short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) capability. The -400 is very similar to the -100; however, as it powers the F-35C carrier variant (CV), the engine employs various materials that are resistant to the corrosion that results from operating in a maritime environment.
As the F135 solely powers the F-35, its level of success is linked to that of the airframe. Forecast International’s Platinum Forecast System® reflects the ramp-up of F135 production for the period 2017-2031. Current figures for F135 production are modest, with nearly 90 engines forecast for production in 2017; however, production will increase over the forecast period, breaking 200 units around 2024 and reaching 240 units in 2029, the peak number for the period. The -400 model will be the least produced, whereas the -100 will be the most produced.
The F-35 and its F135 engine, despite any issues, are indeed here to stay.
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Forecast International produces two distinct Power Systems products. The Aviation Gas Turbine Forecast presents the 15-year outlook for aviation turbofan, turboprop and turboshaft engines and more. The Industrial & Marine Turbine Forecast covers the markets for gas and steam turbines, mechanical drive engines, and marine power, among others.
 “Lockheed Martin F-35s Surpass 100,000 Flight Hours, SDD Completion on Track,” Lockheed Martin, accessed August 15,2017, https://www.f35.com/news/detail/lockheed-martin-f-35s-surpass-100000-flight-hours-system-development-and-de