REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The Small Engine Test Facility has helped improve missile and aviation mechanisms for nearly four decades. The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center facility evaluates and analyzes small air breathing propulsion systems used in unmanned or missile propulsion systems. The propulsion configurations tested in the facility range from turbojet, turboprop, turbofan, piston and rotary engines up to 150 horsepower and 1,000 pounds of thrust.

A part of Weapons Development and Integration Directorate, the SETF began in the 1980's to perform test and evaluation of small turbine engine technologies for small tactical missile applications. The SETF was originally developed to test, evaluate and provide data required to numerically model high performance, low cost, expendable turbine engines suitable for attack, loitering or target missions. At that time, experimental turbine engines were being developed as small as four inches in diameter and ten inches long, and a test facility was needed to evaluate them.

The SETF later expanded to include unmanned aircraft propulsion systems to help the Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System Product Office with engine related failures. The personnel provided professional expertise and independent engine testing data directly to the PdM to identify issues and evaluate propulsion system improvements which were later fielded.

Robert Milton was the Airbreathing Propulsion Tech Base lead when the program started. "We are extremely glad that we were able to work so closely with the PdM and had a role helping them make Shadow more reliable," he said.

During the first three years of support to PdM TUAS the engine related mishaps of Shadow dropped 50 percent each year. "When the Shadow crashes due to an engine failure it is not completing its mission," said Gary Kirkham, team lead, Airbreathing Propulsion Group. "It is our job to make sure the tools are ready to support the Soldiers in the field."

Through the years, the facility has evolved to meet changing needs of the customers and has tested the world's smallest, most efficient tactical turbofan engines developed in the High Efficiency Turbine Engine Program as the world's first solid fueled Air Turbo Ramjet.

The SETF is capable of performing routine endurance testing of TUAS propulsion system upgrades and alternatives, evaluating subsystem and component modifications, accessing engine acoustics/reliability/performance, developing engine performance specifications, participating in Source Selection Board activities, and testing multiple engines types.

The SETF consists of several reconfigurable test cells capable of testing small turbine engines, from 18 to 1,000 pounds of thrust, small propeller engine test engines from one to 150 Horsepower, as well as a 150 hp Dynamometer Test Cell that can do automated performance maps and in-cylinder combustion pressure measurements used for engine detonation testing. Each cell is supported by National Institute Standards Technology traceable instrumentation.

The SETF has additional testing support capabilities including on-site fabrication, machine shop, weld shop, on-site chemical analysis and metallurgical analysis capability.

The personnel and facility continue to support the PdM TUAS for the next phase of the Shadow platform as it continues to evolve and upgrade. The SETF is currently working with the Shadow PM to develop a program to provide engine rebuild and testing capability to the 1108th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group. Currently, there is only one other engine repair facility for the RQ-7Bv2 Shadow system, PdM TUAS is seeking to add additional engine repair facilities.

"We have worked very hard to develop a high fidelity engine test facility that provides high value, low cost engine test and evaluation support to our customers," said Kirkham. "There are always improvements to be made and we are constantly looking for ways to expand and upgrade our capabilities."


U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.