Honeywell announced last Tuesday, March 12, that it had successfully demonstrated the latest power and thermal management system upgrade on the revered F-35s, boosting the aircraft’s capacity and futureproofing capabilities.

Advancements in F-35 Cooling Capacity

In a major development for the United States Air Force’s F-35 fleet, Honeywell, a respected aerospace firm, has successfully amped up the cooling capacity of the F-35 Power and Thermal Management System (PTMS) from 30 to 80 kilowatts.

This upgrade is a game-changer, beefing up the aircraft’s operational capabilities.

The folks at Honeywell, based out of North Carolina, made the announcement, highlighting tweaks to heat exchangers and control changes that optimize system performance.

Matt Milas, the President of Defense and Space at Honeywell’s Aerospace Technologies, stressed their readiness to handle future F-35 upgrades without breaking the bank, whether for new birds or retrofitting existing ones.

“[This success] not only meets the F-35’s current needs but [also sets us up nicely for] future F-35 modernization upgrades need for expensive changes to the aircraft for either forward-fit or retrofit scenarios,” said Milas.

Cooling Technology (Image source: Honeywell)

Anticipation for Block 4 Upgrades

This upgrade couldn’t come at a better time, especially with talks heating up about the F-35’s future cooling needs and the Block 4 upgrades on the horizon.

While the old PTMS did its job, it was expected to raise Operation and Maintenance (O&S) costs over time.

Needing a more powerful cooling system, the Pentagon had to choose between sticking to Honeywell and Collins Aerospace to provide an upgrade or an entirely new one.

Honeywell proposed upgrading the existing system, arguing it would be less risky and expensive and give more bang for the buck.

On the other hand, Collins Aerospace designed a new system called the Enhanced Power and Cooling System (EPACS), which they claim can meet future cooling needs and will be ready for production by 2030.

In January, Collins Aerospace announced that it had “demonstrated 80 kilowatts of cooling capacity across a range of operating conditions” for its EPACS.

Synergies with Engine Core Upgrade

What’s more, this upgrade aligns neatly with discussions about Pratt and Whitney’s Engine Core Upgrade (ECU) for the F-35, hinting at synergies that could juice up capabilities beyond what’s expected for Block 4.

That’s good news for addressing Lockheed Martin’s concerns about how the PTMS could mess with engine performance and maintenance costs.

Right now, the Pentagon is mulling whether to stick with the current PTMS or go for a new one.

Honeywell’s successful demo, along with recent tests by RTX’s Collin Aerospace, offers up some solid options for the Air Force’s cooling and power needs.

The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) is doing its homework to make the smartest call possible, aiming to keep things efficient and cost-effective for the folks on the front lines.

Why the Need for Cooling?

The F-35’s powerful engines and electronics generate a lot of heat, like a high-powered laptop.

The plane’s cooling system, the PTMS, needs to be strong enough to remove this heat and keep everything from melting down.

This is why the Pentagon asked companies to design a new or improved PTMS.

Accordingly, the requested minimum cooling power requirement should be 62 units (kilowatts), but ideally, they’d like something even more robust, around 80 units.

Something competitors Honeywell and Collins Aerospace had already demonstrated. All they have to do now is wait for the JPO to complete its market research, as spokesperson Russ Goemaere told Breaking News in January.

Conclusion: Pushing Forward with Innovation

In a nutshell, what Honeywell pulled off here is a big step forward for beefing up the F-35’s capabilities, and that’s crucial for keeping our Air Force ready and our nation secure.

As the brass hash out their plans, this successful upgrade underscores the importance of innovation and teamwork in keeping America’s aerial fleet ahead of the game.