US Navy Growler flies on 100-percent biofuel

U.S. Navy’s EA-18G “Green Growler” completed flight testing of a 100-percent advanced biofuel at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, in early September. 

“From takeoff to landing, you couldn’t tell any difference,” said Lt. Cmdr. Bradley Fairfax, project officer and test pilot with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, after the first test flight Sept. 1. “The information presented to us in the airplane is pretty simplified but, as far as I could tell, the aircraft flew completely the same as [petroleum-based] JP-5 for the whole flight.”

Using the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s (NAWCAD) Real-time Telemetry Processing System (RTPS) at the Atlantic Test Ranges, flight test engineer Mary Picard monitored the ground and test flights and confirmed Fairfax’s observations. “What we have seen is that the 100-percent bio-JP-5 appears to be basically transparent. It looks just like petroleum JP-5 in the airplane. So far, everything looks good and we haven’t noticed a difference.”

And that’s the technical premise of the Navy’s alternative fuels test and qualification program: the JP-5 produced from alternative sources must be invisible to the user, said Rick Kamin, energy and fuels lead for Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). Kamin also leads the alternative fuel test and qualification program for the Navy.

The catalytic hydrothermal conversion-to-jet (CHCJ) process 100-percent alternative fuel performed as expected during a ground test Aug. 30 at NAWCAD’s Aircraft Test and Evaluation Facility (ATEF), followed by the first test flight Sept. 1, Rick Kamin, energy and fuels lead for Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), said.

The fuels program supports SECNAV’s operational energy goal to increase the use of alternative fuels afloat by 2020.

“As the owner of the JP-5 aviation jet fuel specification, our job at NAVAIR is to make sure that whatever source our JP-5 is made from, we know it will work in our aircraft,” said Kamin.

“This is the first time we’ve looked at a process that can produce a fuel with all the properties and chemistry of JP-5 jet fuel without having to blend with petroleum based JP-5,” said Kamin.

CHCJ, the 100-percent drop-in renewable jet fuel that was tested, is produced by Florida-based Applied Research Associates (ARA) and Chevron Lummus Global. ARA’s process uses the same feedstocks as the Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA) 50-percent advanced biofuel blend previously approved by the Navy, but goes through a conversion process that provides a fully synthetic fuel that does not need to be blended, Kamin said.

The fuels team has evaluated five alternative sources for JP-5 and four F-76 sources since SECNAV kicked-off the program in 2009. The team, however, was already researching advanced biofuels in response to interest from the U.S. Air Force and the commercial airline industry in 2008.