In the 1960s, the Soviet airline Aeroflot was shopping for a tough new commuter plane that could service far flung airports in the frozen Taiga as well as the sun-baked Kazakh desert. With few options on the market, Aeroflot bosses commissioned Czech aviation engineers, long regarded among the best in the business, to build an aircraft that met their needs and an engine to go with it. The plane, the L-410 Turbolet, and the engine have been in production since, flying passengers and cargo across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.
The plane has gone through numerous redesigns over the years, but things were getting rusty under the engine hood. When GE acquired the engine factory in 2008, the engine was surviving on legacy and badly needed an upgrade. GE dispatched to Prague a team of American engineers to work with the Czechs. Together they applied advanced aerodynamic design, materials and manufacturing techniques to slim down the engine, add power, and cut fuel burn.
The Turbolet and the new engine, which GE calls H80, can now fly together again. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certified the combo in April and one of the first GE-powered Turbolets landed in Prague this week. The certificate also gives GE an entry into the turboprop commuter market.
GE plans to produce more than 70 of the new engines this year. Besides the Turbolet, the engines are already flying on the American Thrush 510G crop dusters.