Many planes heading to the Farnborough International Airshow, which opens just outside of London on Monday, start their descent over Wimbledon’s famous tennis courts. It’s an apt landing route. Just like the tennis tournament, the air show is a grand-slam event for the aviation industry. The stars here have names like Airbus, Boeing and GE, the company that makes the jet engines that keep planes in the air.
GE has been coming to Farnborough since the show launched in the late 1940s. The company first arrived with its J47 jet engine, which became the most produced jet engine in the world. GE made 35,000 of them— a world record — and the engines powered nimble fighter planes from the F-86 Sabre to the giant Convair B-36 jet.
GE has brought many showstoppers since. In 1988, for example, it dispatched to Farnborough one of the strangest aircraft ever to land here. The McDonnell Douglas plane was powered by an experimental GE36 open-rotor engine, which used carbon-fiber composite blades in an unusual hybrid design that combined features from jet and propeller engines.
The odd couple was a big hit at the show. Even though the engine didn’t catch on, its composite blades did. They gave birth to a line of GE high-bypass jet engines including the GE90 and the GE9X, now the world’s largest and most powerful engines, respectively. They’re both playing an outsize role here this year, as is their cousin, the LEAP engine.
The LEAP’s blades were made by Safran Aircraft Engines of France, GE’s joint-venture partner in CFM International, the company that developed the engine. The LEAP sports not only a carbon-fiber fan, but also 3D-printed fuel nozzles and a part called a shroud, which is made from light- and heat-resistant space-age materials called ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), developed by GE. The engine arrived here last week powering the Boeing 737 MAX. This is the first time the plane maker is showing the next-generation plane.
The LEAP is 15 percent more efficient than other similar engines made by CFM International, the 50-50 joint venture between GE Aviation and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines. The engine, which powers the Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX, and COMAC C919 planes, is so popular that CFM has received orders and commitments for more than 10,800 engines, valued at $151 billion (U.S. list price). The LEAP-1A will enter service on an A320neo later this year.
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