General Electric YF120


YF120 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Type Variable Cycle Turbofan
National origin United States
Manufacturer General Electric
First run 1980s
Major applications Lockheed YF-22
Northrop YF-23
Developed into General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136

The General Electric YF120, internally designated as GE37, was a variable cycle afterburning turbofan engine designed by General Electric Aircraft Engines in the late 1980s/early 1990s for the United States Air Force's Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program. Prototype engines were installed in the two competing technology demonstrator aircraft, the Lockheed YF-22 and Northrop YF-23.

Pratt & Whitney's competing F119 was selected over the F120 to power the ATF, which became the F-22 Raptor.



General Electric (GE) began developing the GE37, which would become basis of the XF120 and YF120, for the Joint Advanced Fighter Engine (JAFE) program in the early 1980s aimed at supplying the powerplant for the Air Force's Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF). The core technology used in the F120 design was developed during two industry-government programs, the Advanced Technology Engine Gas Generator (ATEGG) and Joint Technology Demonstration Engine (JTDE) programs.[1] The design was meant to address the challenging supercruise requirement of the ATF.[2] This meant the engine had to produce a large amount of dry thrust (without afterburner) and therefore have high off-design efficiency ("design" being standard cruise conditions). Unlike competitor Pratt & Whitney, GE elected against developing a conventional fixed bypass turbofan and instead chose to design a variable cycle engine.[3] Additional innovations include the use of one-piece disk and rotor blade assemblies, or "blisks", in the fan and compressor stages to increase performance and durability as well as reduce weight and parts count. The original RFP called for maximum thrust in the 30,000 lbf (133 kN) class.[4]

The second YF-23 (left), nicknamed “Grey Ghost”, was powered by two YF120 engines.

Due to the ATF's increasing weight, thrust requirement was increased by 20% to the 35,000 lbf (156 kN) class in order to meet performance requirements. GE's design changed to incorporate a 12% larger fan to increase airflow as well as cooling air, particularly for the nozzles. For flight demonstration, YF120s were fitted with the larger fan, unlike the YF119 which used its original small fan. As a result, both demonstrator aircraft had higher performance with the YF120s than with the YF119s.[5] The YF120-powered the YF-22 and YF-23 to supercruise speeds of Mach 1.58 and Mach 1.6+ respectively.[6][7] While the YF120 engine never went into production, it was installed in the YF-22 for the high angle of attack demonstrations.

The Engineering & Manufacturing Development (EMD) configuration of the F120 was tested in December 1990. Component improvements enabled it to achieve YF120 thrust levels at lower temperatures.[8] The USAF ultimately chose the Pratt & Whitney's F119 proposal for full-scale development and production. The more ambitious F120 design was judged to be riskier, and General Electric also accrued fewer testing hours than Pratt & Whitney.[9]

Further developments

The YF120 was also proposed as the basis for a more exotic engine, the Turbine-Based Combined Cycle (TBCC) engine that was to be used in demonstrator aircraft like the X-43B and future hypersonic aircraft. Specifically, the YF120 was to be the basis for the Revolutionary Turbine Accelerator (RTA-1). The variable cycle technology used in the YF120 would be extended to not only turn the engine into a turbojet but also into a ramjet. In that mode all airflow would bypass the core and be diverted into the afterburner-like "hyperburner" where it would be combusted like a ramjet. This proposed engine was to accelerate from 0 to Mach 4.1 (at 56,000 ft) in eight minutes.[10][11]

Technology from the YF120 has been applied to subsequent GE designs; in the 1990s, GE and Rolls-Royce began jointly developing the F136 engine for the Joint Strike Fighter program. While drawing from lessons learned from the YF120, the F136 is a conventional fixed-bypass design; it also leveraged advances in turbine engine technology from the Integrated High Performance Turbine Engine Technology (IHPTET) program, which continued developments from ATEGG and JTDE.[12] Despite better performance potential than the incumbent Pratt & Whitney F135, The F136 was eventually cancelled due to a lack of funding.[13]

Despite not selecting the YF120 for the ATF, the USAF would further the development of variable cycle engine technology through the Versatile Affordable Advanced Turbine Engines (VAATE), a joint government and industry effort that aims to address future turbine engine needs. Under the VAATE, the Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology (ADVENT) program would continue the development of variable cycle turbine engine technology into an adaptive three-stream architecture.[14] The follow-on Adaptive Engine Technology Demonstrator (AETD), Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) and the Next Generational Adaptive Propulsion (NGAP) resulted in the development of the GE XA100 and the P&W XA101 for potential reengining of the Lockheed Martin F-35 and adaptive engines for the Next Generation Air Dominance and F/A-XX programs, successors to the ATF.[15][16]



The YF120 is a twin-spool axial-flow afterburning turbofan. The design consists of a two-stage fan driven by the single-stage low-pressure turbine and a five-stage fan/compressor driven by the single-stage high-pressure turbine; notably, the engine has two bypass channels which are located at the front and rear of the first compressor stage of the high-pressure spool, also known as the core-driven fan stage. The annular combustor is a double-dome design. The high and low-pressure spools are counter-rotating, which eliminates the stationary vanes between the turbines and decreases the number of parts.[17] The engine is controlled by a three-channel fuel-cooled full authority digital engine control (FADEC) system.[18]

The engine for the YF-22 featured a two-dimensional thrust vectoring nozzle. The nozzle allowed for vectoring in the pitch direction. This capability gave the aircraft it was installed in a serious advantage in pitch agility by greatly increasing the amount of nose pitching moment available to the aircraft. The pitching moment is traditionally generated by the horizontal stabilizer (and/or canard, if applicable), but with a thrust vectoring nozzle that moment can be augmented by the thrust of the engine. During high AoA demonstrations of the YF-22, the YF120 powered aircraft flew at trimmed AoA of 60 degrees at 82 knots. At this attitude the aircraft was able to demonstrate controllability. Later analysis revealed that the aircraft could have maintained controlled, trimmed flight up to 70 degrees angle of attack.[19]

Variable cycle

The YF120's variable cycle system worked by varying the bypass ratio of the engine for different flight regimes, allowing the engine to act like either a low bypass turbofan or nearly a turbojet.[3] As a low bypass turbofan (like competitor F119), the engine performed similarly to comparable engines, with the aft bypass channel behind the core-driven fan stage open. When needed, however, the engine could direct more airflow through the hot core of the engine (like a turbojet) by closing the aft bypass channel, increasing the specific thrust of the engine. This made the engine more efficient at high altitude, high thrust levels than a traditional low bypass turbofan. Fan-to-core pressure matching was performed by a variable area bypass injector (VABI).[20][21]

An expected disadvantage of this variable cycle system would be increased complexity and weight. GE claims to have combated this by using simple pressure driven valves rather than complex mechanically actuated valves to divert airflow. GE stated that this system resulted in the variable cycle system adding only 10 lb to the engine.[3] Additionally, a production F120 engine was expected to have 40% fewer parts than the F110 engine.[12]


Specifications (YF120)

Data from Aronstein,[22] Pace,[7] Norris[12]

General characteristics

  • Type: Twin-Spool, axial-flow, variable-cycle, augmented Turbofan
  • Length: 166.8 in (4,237 mm)
  • Diameter: 42 in (1,067 mm)
  • Dry weight: 4,100 lb (1,860 kg)



See also

Related development

Comparable engines

Related lists


  1. ^ Aronstein, p. 233
  2. ^ Aronstein, p. 211
  3. ^ a b c Moxon, Julian (1989). ATF rivals ready for engine contest. Flight International. 15-21 Nov 1989, pg. 22-23.
  4. ^ Aronstein pp. 211–215
  5. ^ Aronstein pp. 221–223
  6. ^ "YF-22 PAV-1 breaks supercruise speed record". Defense Daily. 19 November 1990. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 10 August 2015 – via HighBeam Research.
  7. ^ a b Pace, p. 232
  8. ^ Aronstein, p. 223
  9. ^ Aronstein, p. 227
  10. ^ Norris, Guy (2003). GE unveils ramjet design for shuttle. Flight International. 23 Sept 2003, pg. 26.
  11. ^ Mach 7 engine to be turbine-based (2004). Flight International. 23 Dec 2003 - 5 Jan 2004, pg. 13.
  12. ^ a b c Norris, Guy (1990). Power Struggle. Flight International. 1-7 Aug 1990, pg. 22-23
  13. ^ Majumdar, Dave (2 December 2011). "GE, Rolls Royce Stop Funding F-35 Alt Engine". Defense News. Archived from the original on 2012-07-29.
  14. ^ Thomson, Daniel E. (14 April 2010). Versatile Affordable Advanced Turbine Engines Provide Game Changing Capability with Superior Fuel Efficiency (PDF). 11th Annual Science & Engineering Technology Conference/DoD Tech Expo. Charleston, South Carolina.
  15. ^ Norris, Guy (14 May 2021). "How GE's Adaptive Engine Differs From Earlier Variable Cycle Designs". Aviation Week.
  16. ^ Norris, Guy (2 October 2020). "Going With The Flow: The U.S. Air Force's New Adaptive Powerplants". Aviation Week.
  17. ^ Aronstein, pp. 212-15
  18. ^ Aronstein, p. 216
  20. ^ Aronstein, p. 212
  21. ^ GE F120 Powerplant Uses Fan Bypass Door to Regulate Variable Cycle (1990). Aviation Week and Space Technology. 30 Jul 1990. Vol. 133, No. 5; pg. 21
  22. ^ Aronstein pp. 224
  23. ^ Kauser, Fazel (1994). An Overview of Gas Turbine Propulsion Technology. 30th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference. 27-29 Jun 1994, Indianapolis, IN. AlAA 94-2828.
  • GE unveils ramjet design for shuttle Technology News Flight International 23/09/03 .
  • Aronstein, David C.; Hirschberg, Michael J. (1998). Advanced Tactical Fighter to F-22 Raptor: Origins of the 21st Century Air Dominance Fighter. Arlington, Virginia: American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronomy. ISBN 978-1-56347-282-4.
  • Pace, Steve (2016). The Big Book of X-Bombers & X-Fighters: USAF Jet-Powered Experimental Aircraft and Their Propulsive Systems. Voyageur Press. ISBN 9780760351420.

External links

  • GE/Allison/Rolls-Royce Team Developing YF120 Fighter Engine for JSF Aircraft Candidates. Press release GE Aviation (Sept 2, 1996).
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force page on the YF120
  • Northrop YF-23 Enthusiast's site