July 11, 2019
One hundred years ago tomorrow, GE engineer Sanford Moss tested out a biplane equipped with a turbosupercharger, an engine contraption that enables planes to maintain their power at high altitudes. The technology helped launch the jet age, and it also launched GE Aviation, which is celebrating a century of progress this year by focusing on what’s ahead — way ahead. Moss’s colleagues are already working on an engine for the next generation of civilian supersonic jets, which will get passengers from New York to London in just three hours. That’s astonishing technology for the 21st century, but the discerning traveler looking a little further in the future might also prefer the option of hypersonic travel: planes that fly at Mach 5, or faster than 3,500 miles an hour. At that speed, three hours get you from New York to Sydney.
Hype(rsonic) man: Recently GE Reports caught up with Narendra Joshi, advanced technology leader at GE Research, who told us his job is to “imagine what the future could be 100 years from now and to then make it possible.” He said the hypersonic age will require five key elements: “high-temperature materials, heat management technologies, engine design, advanced vehicle controls and technologies controlling emissions.” On the materials front, GE has already got a leg up with the ceramic matrix composites that figure into the advanced jet engines the company sells today. Lightweight and able to withstand “volcanic” engine temperatures, CMCs might be one of the things that help engineers realize the sci-fi dream of hypersonic travel. It’s these and other advanced materials in GE’s portfolio, Joshi said, “that have us believing it’s not a question of if, but when it will happen.”
Materials like CMCs allow engines to operate at unholy temperatures — but traveling at Mach 5 will cause a plane’s exterior to get a bit toasty, too. Learn more here about how Joshi’s team is thinking about that problem and others, like: How do you steer a thing traveling 3,500 miles an hour?
After a century in business, GE Aviation is a $30.5 billion company — but it’s not just the money that’s big. Last month at the Paris Air Show, the company unveiled the world’s largest commercial jet engine: the GE9X, developed for Boeing’s latest 777X, which joins a family of GE jet engines popular with commercial airlines all over the world, including the GEnx and the GE90. Showing just how strong the family ties are, Qatar Airways announced this week that it’s chosen the GEnx engine to power 30 new twin-engine 787-9 Dreamliner jets. The Gulf airline also said it had signed a long-term service agreement covering maintenance, repair and overhaul of the engines, and added a long-term service agreement to cover the GE9X jet engines it already has on order to power 60 Boeing 777X jets.
You’ve come a long way, baby: “Qatar Airways is one of the fastest-growing airlines in the world, and GE Aviation is proud to collaborate with Qatar Airways and play a significant role in their growth,” said David Joyce, GE Aviation’s president and CEO. When Joyce introduced the GE9X last month in Paris, he called it “the biggest, most advanced wide-body engine in the world.” Joyce’s business continues to pile up the superlatives: Since it launched the machine 15 years ago, GE Aviation has sold more than 2,500 GEnx engines, making it the fastest-selling high-thrust GE engine in history. And it’s already received orders for more than 700 GE9X engines, which uses next-wave materials like the aforementioned CMCs and manufacturing processes, including 3D printing, to power the future of flight.
Read more here about the Qatar Airways deal, as well as other recent wins scored by GE Aviation.
HOW THE JET AGE TOOK OFF
The turbosupercharger technology Sanford Moss tested out 100 years ago — essentially, devices that use hot exhaust air coming out of a piston engine to spin a compressor and squeeze the thin air coming inside the engine at high altitudes to give it more power — paved the way for both long-haul air travel and aerial combat. But it was a bumpy road. In 1929, when an engineer named Frank Whittle presented his superiors in the British Air Ministry with a design for a turbocharged jet engine, they dismissed it out of hand. Soon the design made its way to Germany, where it aided the Nazis in the coming air war. That’s when Whittle took a new job: In 1942, he came to the U.S. to assist GE engineers in developing turbojet engine technology, in the process helping turn America from laggard to leader in jet engine design.
A propulsive innovation: First there were some cultural differences to deal with — like the fact that Whittle’s specs were based on a different measurement system. Joseph Sorota, one of the GE workers involved in the top-secret project, recalled, “Our wrenches didn’t fit the nuts and bolts because they were on the metric system. We had to grind them open a little more to get inside.” Ultimately, though, the engineers were successful in developing Whittle’s turbojet technology. Though their achievement came too late to have a decisive effect on the war, Whittle’s designs resulted in the first American jet engine — and also energized GE’s aviation division, whose technology powers planes taking off every two seconds in the world today.
Read more here about the long road to long-haul air travel.
— QUOTE OF THE DAY —
“A hundred years from now, it’s hard to fathom just how different the world will be. But I bet hypersonic air travel will be as commonplace as the planes that fly today.”
— Narendra Joshi, advanced technology leader at GE Research
Quote: GE Reports. Image: Tomas Kellner for GE Reports.
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