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The Next Generation: Which Jet Engines Lift GE’s Mojo?

In December 2011, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner powered by two GEnx jet engines set a pair of world records for the fastest eastbound trip around the world and longest flight for an aircraft in its class.

The next-generation GEnx jet engine and two others like it still in development are now providing a record $144 billion lift – almost as much as GE’s combined revenues for one year – to the company’s business. 

The company has $35 billion in orders and commitments for the GEnx, $26 billion (including service agreements) for the GE9X jet engine, and $83 billion for the LEAP engine, which is being developed by CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture between GE and France’s Snecma (Safran). The engines and services agreements also contribute to GE’s record $244 billion backlog.

“The engines are standing on the shoulders of groundbreaking technologies we’ve been developing over the last decade,” says David Joyce, CEO of GE Aviation. “Our strategy is clearly paying off.”

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This Boieng 787 Dreamliner is being powered by two GEnx engines. Top image: A GEnx engine at a testing stand in Peebles, Ohio.

All three engines have components made from advanced materials like aviation-grade carbon fiber composites. They allowed engineers to make the engines bigger, lighter, more fuel efficient and also quieter.

GE is so far ahead in materials that it is already working on the fourth generation of carbon fiber fan blades for the GE9X engine. No other jet engine manufacturer has blades made from the material in service.

The LEAP and the GE9X, with 11 feet (3.35 meters) in fan diameter the world’s largest jet engine, will also have 3D printed parts and components made from a special ceramic material called ceramic matrix composites (CMCs).

GE spends annually between 5 and 6 percent of revenues on research and development of new technologies and materials like 3D printing and CMCs.

As a result, the CMCs are ceramics for superheroes. They are two thirds lighter than metals and tough enough to operate at temperatures 20 percent higher than their super alloy counterparts, at levels where most metals grow soft.

The materials and new designs will deliver big savings for airlines. The GEnx is 15 percent more fuel efficient than comparable GE engines and the LEAP could save airlines up to $1.6 million per airplane in fuel costs. They also generate fewer carbon and nitrogen emissions.

Making all these new engines, more than 8,000 in total, is a tall order. That’s why GE Aviation also started building seven new factories in the U.S. over the last seven years.

When they are up and running, they will create some 2,500 jobs.

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