The US Air Force has started ground testing of the CFM56 engine with synthetic jet fuel made with the Fischer Tropsch process, further establishing the fuel’s future role in military and civil aviation.

Testing will lead to flights on the USAF's Boeing KC-135R aerial refueling tanker as the commercial airline sector looks on. The CFM56 is one of the most widely used engines in the world, powering the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families as well as the Airbus A340.

“This testing was a combination Air Force Research Laboratory/General Electric effort at GE facilities outside of Cincinnati, Ohio,” says the US Air Force.

Testing of the blend of synthetic and conventional JP8 in the CFM56 follows certification of the fuel in the Boeing C-17 airlifter and its Pratt & Whitney PW2000 engines (the same as on Boeing 757s) in December and in the P&W TF33-powered Boeing B-52 bomber in August 2007.

C-17 synfuel flight
USAF C-17 completed transcontinental flight on synthetic fuel in December

The Air Force hopes to meet half of its energy needs by 2016 with fuels made using the Fischer Tropsch process, which converts coal, natural gas and other carbon-based feedstocks into petroleum substitutes.

Later this year researchers will conclude ground tests of the fuel the General Electric F101 engine, which will include operation of the afterburner, and conduct supersonic flight tests of the synthetic blend in the Rockwell B-1B bomber.

"We are currently working with the F-22, KC-135 and F-16. We anticipate that the KC-135 will be first to fly, possibly in late spring/early summer," says the USAF.

Ground testing  of the F-22's F119 engine is tentatively scheduled for May/June 2008 at P&W's facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. "The F-16 engine ground test [with the GE F110 engine] will not be conducted until later this year,” the USAF says.

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