Remembering the “Great Engine War”

by Carter Palmer, Power Systems Specialist, Forecast International.

F100 Engine. Source: Pratt & WhitneyCivil aircraft owners and operators are no stranger to engine options. Two or even three engines, as is the case with the A330, may be offered for a single airframe. However, when it comes to military aviation, this luxury is generally not possible. Military aircraft have one engine type – and whether this exclusivity yields better results is often debated in aviation circles.  The F100, the famed Pratt & Whitney powerplant, has long been party to this dispute.

The F100, like many engines, has been progressively improved. The early model F100-PW-100/200s had issues – stall stagnation and a short lifespan, which translated to high maintenance costs.  While these issues were being addressed, the United States Air Force issued a tender for a competing engine.

What would become  known as “The Great Engine War” had just begun!

“The Great Engine War” of the 1980s – or the Alternative Fighter Engine (AFE) program in military parlance – is a curious blip in the history of military aviation. The Pratt & Whitney F100 and General Electric F101-X (later to be named F110) were pitted against each other to coax their manufacturers to produce a more effective machine.

The F100-PW-220 and the F110-GE-100 resulted from this competition.  Each engine showed significant improvement in power and reliability over the original F100 design, and contracts were awarded for both. The F110 went on to power later F-14s, a few F-15s, and a majority of newer F-16 C/Ds. The F100 would continue powering the vast majority of F-15s, and a sizable fraction of future F-16s as well.

Currently, the F100 is in production for the Iraqi Air Force’s order of F-16s; 14 of 36 of which have been delivered.  As it currently stands, these will be the last F100s produced.

The Internet is full of “forumists” who argue about which engine is better. The answer is simply this: both the F100 and F110 are important pieces of aviation that will soon be relegated to history. While the F110 may remain in production longer, both turbines have enjoyed a good run, and their legacies will keep living on in the F-15s and F-16s that continue flying.

Please feel free to use this content with Forecast International and analyst attributions, along with a link to the article. Contact Ray Peterson at +1 (203) 426-0800 or via email at for additional analysis.

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.

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