A glimpse into Safran's FCAS fighter aircraft
French-based engine manufacturer, Safran, has released details about the powerplant that will be employed by the Système de Combat Aérien du Futur (SCAF/Future Combat Air System, FCAS) fighter aircraft.
Early last year, Safran and Germany’s MTU Aero Engines signed an industrial partnership agreement to produce an engine for the FCAS – which is being designed as a sixth-generation fighter aircraft and scheduled to be operated by the air arms of France, Germany and Spain from between 2035-2040 onwards. The aircraft will ultimately replace the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18 Hornet multirole fighters that are currently in use by these nations.
The release of the first details of the FCAS’ engines follows the awarding of the initial framework contract (Phase 1A) to a consortium of companies to launch the demonstrator phase by the French, German and Spanish governments.
In terms of division on the engine development, both Safran and MTU Aero Engines will be working mostly in their field of expertise. The former will oversee the development of the hot parts of the engine and will perform integration tasks. The latter will be responsible for the cold parts and will provide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services.
A new-generation fighter jet
Stéphane Cueille, the director of Research and Technology and Innovation at Safran, describes the innovations needed to develop an enhanced engine for the FCAS fighter. He outlined in a press release from Safran that: “This new-generation fighter jet should be able to both produce strong supersonic thrust and cruise at low speed over long periods. Its engine should therefore be versatile. It will also be more compact to be lighter, and its thrust – much more powerful than that of the Rafale – will make it possible for the [FCAS] to carry more weapons.”
He goes on to outline that the turbine is expected to reach temperatures of around 2,100K (1,825°C) – which is not currently possible with existing turbine blade materials and technologies. To overcome this, Safran has provided a research platform to develop “sophisticated technology and materials that can withstand these temperatures.”
Cueille adds that: “The engine should also have a variable cycle – in other words, it should be able to adjust the ratio between the primary and secondary air flows – and have an adjustable nozzle to make the aircraft easier to handle. Another area of innovation that will be explored is about making the engine hybrid to manage onboard energy issues.”
Those involved with the FCAS fighter programmes are hoping to begin flight testing by 2026. However, Safran states that its demonstration engine will be ready for 2027, meaning that the first FCAS flight tests will employ an engine derived from the M88 – the powerplant of the Dassault Rafale. As a result, Safran was contracted to conduct a five-year upstream research programme – worth €115m (US$124m) – to boost the M88 engine’s thrust while improving its lifespan, something which will greatly benefit the Rafale going forward as well as assist in FCAS development.
The FCAS was unveiled at the Paris Air Show in 2019 by French President Emmanuel Macron. The programme will produce a sixth-generation fighter that is scheduled to enter service with France, Germany and Spain sometime between 2035 and 2040, replacing the Dassault Rafales, Eurofighter Typhoons and Boeing F/A-18 Hornets in current service.
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