A partnership of many years

German Air Force celebrates 60 years of service

Monday, September 24, 1956, was a big day in the upper Bavarian town of Fürstenfeldbruck. For it was on this date that the German defense minister at the time, Theodor Blank, handed the first ten pilots to join the newly formed Luftwaffe – the German Air Force – their certificates and badges. The official handover of a Lockheed T-33A, a Harvard Mark IV and a Piper L-18C Super Cup to the Air Force was marked by mechanics pulling away the covers to reveal the German nationality ensigns. To celebrate the occasion, the engines of the T-33A were started up and the jet taxied to the runway for takeoff.

At a ceremony held almost 60 years later, the Air Force again started up a pair of engines, this time at the 74th Tactical Air Force Wing’s Neuburg base in Bavaria. On this occasion, the powerplants belonged to a Eurofighter aircraft bearing the call sign 30+60. But this was not just any Eurofighter jet. Instead of the usual gray livery, its airframe was painted in striking shades of blue. In nine different stages the painters applied the various gradients of color, which merge from light blue into royal blue. Emblazoned in bright white across the paintwork were the anniversary logo and lettering that read “Luftwaffe”. Behind the design of this special livery was Bavarian artist Walter Maurer. The occasion being marked was the 60th anniversary of the formation of the German Air Force. 

MTU Aero Engines has been partnering with the Air Force from the start, receiving its first support contracts in 1956/57. The year 1961 saw the start of the company’s first major involvement with an engine operated by the Luftwaffe – the J79 that powered the Phantom. Other powerplants then followed, among them the T64 for the Sikorsky CH-53G helicopter, the Larzac 04 for the Alpha Jet, the RB199 for the Tornado and ultimately the EJ200 for the Eurofighter.

When, back in 1997, the German parliament finally decided to purchase the Eurofighter, much had changed in comparison with previous procurement projects. The Cold War had come to an end and public spending, especially for the military sector, had meanwhile come under sharp scrutiny. As a result, the point at issue was no longer just the price of the acquisition of new aircraft, but also the life-cycle costs – the total costs accumulated by the aircraft from its first to its last day. Engine maintenance accounts for a significant part of these overall oper­ating expenses. To reduce these costs for the Eurofighter, therefore, it was also necessary for the Air Force to bring down the expenditure associated with the engines.

Against this backdrop, the decision was soon made to introduce joint industry-military maintenance under industrial leadership: Plans were to co-locate the work previously performed both in the Air Force’s main­tenance bases and at the engine manufacturer’s facilities at a single site – MTU’s engine shop –, with qualified military person­nel working shoulder-to-shoulder with MTU staff.

The sol­diers of the German Armed Forces are fully integrated in MTU’s structures and processes, just like MTU employees. “As part of the overall program, military personnel is involved in tasks such as spare parts management and requirements forecasting, failure investigations, product tracking and quali­ty assurance,” explains Ulrich Ostermair from MTU, who was among the “founding fathers” of the cooperation. “Overall responsibility for maintenance rests with the company, and the soldiers – mainly officers with a degree in engineering and engine mechanics – still report to the Air Force.” The new shoulder-to-shoulder concept soon just became the normal way of doing things. The EJ200 cooperation proved its worth and mainte­nance of a number of other engine types was organized along the same lines. In late 2005, the collaboration between MTU and the German Air Force was extended to include the RB199 engine powering the Tornado, followed by the MTR390 for the Tiger a few years later.

In early June, the Eurofighter in its special anniversary livery took to the skies above Neuburg to fly to the 2016 ILA Berlin Air Show. And so the wheels keep on turning for MTU as well. Not only because the Eurofighter’s EJ200 engines are assembled and maintained in MTU’s shops, but also because MTU’s production share in the propulsion systems is 30 percent, one of the highest work shares the company has ever had in an engine program.