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Where Jet Engines Take a Licking But Keep On Ticking

Every day is a bad day for flying if you hang out with Brian DeBruin. DeBruin runs GE Aviation’s jet engine test operations site in Peebles, Ohio, and his job is to make sure that GE engines keep working when they fly into an hailstorm, encounter a dust cloud or ingest a goose. He and his team even set off small explosions inside jet engines to simulate blade failure. “Some of these tests are relatively benign, but others are quite damaging,” DeBruin told GE Reports. “You’ve got to prove that your engines are good.” We recently sent photographer Chris New to check Peebles out.

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Top image: A cowl for a GEnx engine stretches out like a giant mechanical moth. Above: The Death Star-like turbulence control structure (TCS) streamlines the air flowing inside a jet engine during testing. 

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Up close, the sphere appears translucent.

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From Star Wars to Alien. This GEnx jet engine could be easily mistaken for a machine designed by H.R. Giger.

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Jet engine test cells have 20-foot-thick walls built from a special high-density concrete. The construction team vibrated the wet concrete down to squeeze out air and eliminate weak spots.

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A GEnx-2B jet engine inside a test cell. This engine powers Boeing’s 747-8 aircraft. Many Boeing 787 Dreamliners use the slightly larger GEnx-1B.

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An engineer stands by an air inlet into a test cell. Engines like the GE90-115B, the world’s largest and most powerful jet engine, can swallow as much as 8,000 pounds of air per second.

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“When the engine runs and it’s not moving, it’s kind of like a giant vacuum cleaner,” says “cell owner” Ray Staresina. “A large engine like the GE90 will pull a little tornado from the walls if the airflow doesn’t cut it off. When that happens, it distorts the data.”

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An inside view of a GEnx jet engine. These blades are controlling airflow around the core of the jet engine. This air generates most of the engine’s thrust.

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GE is the company whose jet engines have fan blades made from composite materials. Composites allow engineers to build larger and more efficient jet engines. The blade design was so striking that New York’s Museum of Modern Art included one blade in its collection.

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A close-up of the composite blades and their titanium edge.

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The test cells and their massive air inlets from the outside.

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Peebles also has outdoor test stands where engineers can simulate everything from hail storms to bird strikes.

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GE Aviation also assembles jet engines in Peebles. The company ships them with these giant trucks.

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