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Design Freeze Brings Next-Gen LEAP Engine Close to Production

Jet engine maker CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation and France’s Snecma, completed a design freeze for its latest jet engine that includes for the first time components made from advanced ceramic composites and parts manufactured using 3-D printers. “All of our testing and design work leading to this moment demonstrates that we are on track to meet all of our program commitments,” said Gareth Richards, LEAP program manager at GE Aviation.

The company completed design freeze on the LEAP-1A and LEAP-1C sister engines in June 2012. The first full LEAP engine, a LEAP-1A for the Airbus A320neo, is on schedule to begin ground testing in September of this year.

CFM said that it would release detailed LEAP-1B engine design drawings over the next six months. The company plans to start manufacturing parts later this year, build the first engine in early 2014, and proceed with flight testing and certification over the next two years. The first Boeing 737 MAX powered by the LEAP-1B is scheduled to enter service in 2017.

Boeing estimates that the world aircraft fleet will double in size over the next 20 years to some 40,000 planes. Much of the growth will come from single-aisle next-gen planes like the 737, the A320neo, and COMAC’s C919, the LEAP’s target market.

Southwest, Lion Air, AirAsia, Virgin America, Quantas and dozens of other airlines have already placed orders for more than 4,500 LEAP engines.

The LEAP builds on the world’s bestselling jet engine, the CFM56. (Nearly 25,000 CFM56 engines have been delivered to date.) The short-haul market, where these engines serve, demands durability and quick turnaround between takeoffs and landings. The LEAP adds the fuel efficiency of long-haul engines for wide-body aircraft.

New additive manufacturing techniques and 3-D woven carbon fiber composite fans helped cut the LEAP’s weight. Brand new materials from GE Global Research called ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) allow engineers to raise the temperature and pressure inside the engine and make it more efficient. “Because of our innovation, we don’t need to use complex systems such as gearboxes and other tricks,” says Dale Carlson, manager of advanced programs at GE Aviation.

Besides saving millions in fuel costs, the LEAP also generates fewer emissions and less noise, compared to current CFM engines.

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