The Paris, London and Dubai airshows may get the big business and billion-dollar deals, but aviation enthusiasts will tell you that the greatest airshow on Earth takes place each year at the end of July in the Wisconsin town of Oshkosh. For a week, the town’s Wittman Regional Airport becomes the world’s busiest airfield, drawing some 10,000 pilots who fly in on their planes and camp next to the runways underneath their planes' wings, along with more than 600,000 other visitors.
Last year the airfield stayed quiet for the first time since its 1953 debut, when World War II pilot Paul Poberezny started the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in his basement in Milwaukee. But the event, officially called EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, reopened for pilots and visitors last week, showcasing a wide gamut of planes ranging from home-built experimental aircraft to the latest jets.
The planes also spanned the entire history of aviation, starting with replicas of the Wright Flyer and Bleriot plane to mock-ups of aircraft that will soon enter service. “This place has a special spirit. There is a sense of liberation and self-direction about Oshkosh,” says
Brad Mottier, president and CEO of GE Aviation System, who made his 40th trip to the airshow this year. “It’s both inspirational and aspirational.”
GE Aviation has been coming to Oshkosh for many years, and there’s no better place to see its products — past and
future — up close. We walked around the show this week. Here’s what we found.
Brad Mottier has been coming to Oshkosh for 40 years. Like many GE Aviation employees, he's also a pilot. This year he flew to the show in his Cessna Caravan. “This place has a special spirit. There is a sense of liberation and self-direction about Oshkosh,” Mottier says. “It’s both inspirational and aspirational.” Image credit: Tomas Kellner for GE Reports. Top image credit: Alex Schroff for GE Reports.
Thousands of pilots and their families and friends camp next to their planes at Oshkosh.
GE’s biggest draw at this year’s Oshkosh was the GE Catalyst engine — the first clean-sheet engine for the general aviation turboprop market in 50 years. Image credit: Alex Schroff for GE Reports.
The Catalyst engine combines technology and know-how from GE’s large commercial jet engines with digital engine controls in a way that opens new design options for plane makers. It is expected to radically change how pilots fly turboprops and aims to deliver fuel and emissions savings as high as 15% compared with GE engines currently on the market. The engine will be able to run on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), sometimes referred to as biofuel, and it could also power new types of unmanned aerial vehicles and hybrid aircraft. Textron's Beechcraft Denali will be the first plane on the market with the engine. Alex Schroff for GE Reports.
UPS flew to Oshkosh a 2-week-old Boeing 747-8 freighter powered by four GEnx engines. GE Aviation developed one variant of the engine for the latest version of the iconic jumbo jet and another one for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Last year, a GEnx-engine-powered Dreamliner operated by Air Tahiti Nui set a world commercial distance record when it flew nonstop 9,765 miles from the Polynesian island to Paris. The flight lasted 15 hours and 45 minutes.
GE Aviation Systems also developed the avionics used by Dreamliner pilots. Boeing brought a mock-up of the cockpit to Oshkosh, where visitors could find out for themselves what flying these planes feels like. Alex Schroff for GE Reports.
GE Aviation’s Italian subsidiary, Avio Aero, which played an important role in developing the Catalyst engine, also designed the powerful engine gearboxes for the Airbus A400M Atlas military cargo plane.
CFM International, a 50-50 joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines, developed the LEAP-1B engine for the Boeing 737 MAX. United Airlines flew one of its jets to Oshkosh last week. CFM was founded nearly 50 years ago, and the partners also recently agreed to extend the joint venture through 2050. The company has delivered over 35,000 engines to more than 600 operators worldwide. This fleet has logged more than 1 billion engine flight hours, the equivalent of 20 round trips to Pluto. Since the first CFM engines entered service in the early 1980s, the company has reduced its fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 40% compared with the engines it replaced. This year the company launched the RISE program, aiming to slash those numbers by another 20%, which would represent the greatest decarbonization gain it has ever achieved.
The Orbis Flying Eye Hospital is a converted MD-10 jet that has been “saving sight and training eye care professionals in more than 95 countries around the world,” according to the EAA. The plane is powered by three GE CF6 engines.
The A-10 Warthog jet carries a pair of GE’s TF34 engines. The civilian version of the engines, CF34, power many regional and commuter jets, including Bombardier and Embraer planes. Alex Schroff for GE Reports.
GE engines power a number of fighter jets. The F110 engine powers this F-16, along with the most advanced F-15s in operation today. The U.S. Air Force is putting two F-15EX Eagle II aircraft, powered by the F110, through testing today. Alex Schroff for GE Reports.
The U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornets use a pair of GE’s F414 jet engines.
The HondaJet uses a pair of HF120 jet engines jointly developed by GE Aviation and Honda. At 18.5 inches in diameter and with 2,095 pounds of thrust, it is the smallest jet engine in GE’s portfolio. Alex Schroff for GE Reports.
GE Aviation's CF34 engine on a United jet.
Boeing's AH-64 Apache helicopter uses a pair of GE's T700 engines. GE has produced more than 20,000 of these engines, including its civilian variant, the CT7. The engines power 15 types of helicopters and turboprop planes in more than 130 countries and have accrued more than 100 million flight hours. And they’re far from finished racking up those hours: in 2019, the Army awarded GE Aviation a contract valued at more than $1 billion for as many as 1,700 T700 engines through 2024. Image credit: Alex Schroff for GE Reports
The T700 engine also powers Blackhawk helicopters. Image credit: Alex Schroff for GE Reports.
GE’s experience with turbosuperchargers, which are essentially high-pressure gas turbines, allowed the company to develop the first U.S. jet engine in 1942. Five years later, it was making engines like the J-47, which powered tens of thousands of planes, including this F-86 Sabre. Image credit: Alex Schroff for GE Reports.