“One door closes, another door opens.” So says a well-known phrase indicating that even if you don’t succeed with a particular idea in one area, there is always the possibility that the initiative will be picked up somewhere else and become a success.
Sometimes an idea is turned down and sometimes there is a realization that the timing is not propitious and one must wait for another occasion. The latter was the case recently for Rolls-Royce when it decided to withdraw from the current competition to power Boeing’s proposed New Midsize Airplane, a program to which the airframer hopes to give an official launch in the not-too-distant future.
When announcing its withdrawal of its next generation UltraFan engine from the program, the company stated that while it believed in the value of the NMA in complementing Boeing’s product range, it was “unable to commit to the proposed timetable to ensure we have a sufficiently mature product which supports Boeing’s ambition for the aircraft and satisfies our own internal requirements for technical maturity at entry into service”.
There are many occasions in the history of aviation where the timing was simply not right for one program and yet the technology was very successful in another. Within Rolls-Royce itself is a classic example, albeit the engine technology in question was defined at Allison Engines before R-R bought that company in 1995.
In the late 1980s, Allison had developed turbomachinery which it went on to use in both a turboprop engine, the AE2100, and a turbofan, the AE3007. These products were chosen respectively to power the Saab 2000 and the Embraer ERJ 145 – both 50-seat regional aircraft. The two types thus competed in the regional market.
Unfortunately for the Saab 2000, it came into service in 1994 just two months before the crash at Roselawn of an ATR 72 in severe icing conditions. This led to the reputation of turboprops in the US being considerably diminished. And with the ERJ 145 already picking up orders by being similarly priced, the prospects for the Saab 2000 in the US disappeared. In total, just under 70 Saab 2000s were made, while the ERJ 145 family went on to sell more than 1,200 in all variants including Legacy business jets.
Additionally, both the AE2100 and AE3007 engines went on to find other platforms. The former was selected by Lockheed Martin to power the C-130J Hercules, which entered service in 1999 and has seen more than 400 of the type built. Then, in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, Alenia (now Leonardo) developed its G222 transport aircraft into the C-27J which involved a switch to AE2100 engines. So far, more than 100 of these have been built.
For the AE3007 – which had flown on the Cessna Citation X business jet from 1993 – its new platform was rather different, the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Following on from that came the MQ-4C Triton UAV, plus selection for the Boeing MQ-25 Stingray UAV scheduled to enter service with the US Navy in 2024 – thus highlighting the longevity of the engine’s technology.
If history simply repeats what the AE2100/3007 architecture did in commercial aviation, Rolls-Royce’s belief in the UltraFan’s design and technology – as the foundation of its future large civil aero engine programs – will lead to great success.