In response to the 1970s oil crisis, NASA created the Advanced Turboprop Project (ATP) to mature technologies for high-speed propellers to enable large reductions in fuel burn relative to turbofan engines of that era. Both single rotation and contra-rotation concepts were designed and tested in ground based facilities as well as flight. Some novel concepts/configurations were proposed as part of the effort. The high-speed propeller concepts did provide fuel burn savings, albeit with some acoustics and structural challenges to overcome. When fuel prices fell, the business case for radical new engine configurations collapsed and the research emphasis returned to high bypass ducted configurations.
With rising oil prices and increased environmental concerns there is renewed interest in high-speed propeller based engine architectures. Contemporary analysis tools for aerodynamics and aeroacoustics have enabled a new era of blade designs that have both high efficiency and lower noise characteristics. A recent series of tests in the U.S. have characterized the aerodynamic performance and noise from these modern contra-rotating propeller designs. Additionally the installation and noise shielding aspects for conventional airframes and blended wing bodies have been studied. Historical estimates of ‘propfan’ performance have relied on legacy propeller performance and acoustics data. Current system studies make use of the modern propeller data and higher fidelity installation effects data to estimate the performance of a contemporary aircraft system. Contemporary designs have demonstrated high net efficiency, ∼86%, at 0.78 Mach, and low noise, >15 EPNdB cumulative margin to Chapter 4 when analyzed on a NASA derived aircraft/mission. This paper presents the current state of high-speed propeller/open rotor research within the U.S. from an overall viewpoint of the various efforts ongoing. The remaining technical challenges to a production engine include propulsion airframe integration, acoustic sensitivity to aircraft weight and certification issues.