The ceramic composites inside the LEAP can perform at temperatures as high as 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, where most alloys grow soft.
The Malaysian airline AirAsia placed a second large order for next-generation LEAP jet engines using 3-D printed parts and ceramic components to reduce weight, cut fuel burn and increase efficiency.
The airline ordered a package of engines and services valued at $8.6 billion that includes 128 LEAPs. The engines, manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation and France’s Snecma, will power AirAsia’s fleet of new single-aisle Airbus passenger jets, including 64 advanced A320neo planes.
At the 2011 Paris Air Show, AirAsia announced what was then the largest engine order in history when it selected a version of the LEAP engine, the LEAP-1A, to power 200 A320neos.
CFM has received orders for more than 4,500 LEAP engines. The company plans to start ground testing the first full LEAP engine for the Airbus A320neo this September.
Unlike any other jet engine in history, the LEAP engine includes metal fuel nozzles “printed” by lasers by adding one layer on top of another, components made from revolutionary ceramic composites, and next-generation carbon fiber fan blades woven for the first time in three dimensions at once.
The engineering advances allowed the design team to cut the engine’s weight by hundreds of pounds, increase the temperature inside, and make it more efficient. “We are pushing ahead in materials technology, which gives us the ability to make jet engines lighter, run them hotter, and cool them less,” says GE Aviation manufacturing executive Michael Kauffman. “As result, we can make the engines, and the planes they’ll power, more efficient and cheaper to operate.”
The ceramic composites, for example, weigh a third of advanced alloys but can perform at temperatures as high as 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, where most alloys grow soft. “When you start thinking about design, the weight savings multiplier effect is much more than three to one,” Kauffman says. “Your nickel alloy turbine disc does not have to be so beefy to carry all those light blades, and you can slim down the bearings and other parts too because of a smaller centrifugal force. It’s just basic physics.”
CFM executive vice president Chaker Chahrour told Aviation Week that the LEAP will outperform competing engines like Pratt & Whitney’s PW1100G engine, which is using a system of gears to improve efficiency. Chahrour said that the LEAP-1A engine will have up to 3 percent lower “specific fuel consumption” on the A320neo aircraft than the rival Pratt & Whitney engine. CFM calculated that the difference was worth $2 million per “aircraft net present value.”
The LEAP engine family, there are three versions of the engine, will power next-generation single-aisle planes like the Airbus 320neo, Boeing 737 MAX, and COMAC C919. The single-aisle market will go through a robust growth over the next two decades. Boeing estimates that the world aircraft fleet will double in size by 2032 to some 40,000 planes and the bulk of the growth will come from the single-aisle segment. Boeing says that the numbers are “reflecting growth in emerging markets such as China, and the continued expansion of low-cost carriers throughout the world.”
The company also announced this week that it would build a new ceramic composites plant in Asheville, North Carolina.