GE Started Testing Next-Gen Jet Engine with 3D Printed Parts

September 10, 2013

Engineers at GE’s Peebles Test Operation in Ohio have started testing one of the world’s most advanced jet engines designed for next-generation passenger aircraft.

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The engine, called LEAP-1A, contains 3D printed fuel nozzles, fourth-generation carbon-fiber composite blades, and parts made from ceramic matrix composites. The ceramics can operate at temperatures as high as 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit where most alloys grow soft. They are also two-thirds lighter than the metal equivalent.

“In the past five years, we have completed thousands of hours of component testing leading up to this day,” said Chaker Chahrour, executive vice president of CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation and France’s Snecma (Safran), which is developing the engine. “Everything we have seen tells us the LEAP engine is going to deliver all we promised, and much more. Now, we get to put it through its paces in the most comprehensive test program we have ever undertaken.”

The engine fired for the first time on Sept. 4, two days ahead of schedule. After a series of break-in runs, the engine was operating smoothly and had reached full take-off thrust.

The tests will evaluate various engine systems and operability. Chahrour says that when he and his team are done in 2016, they will have gone through 60 different engine builds for both ground and flight testing, and simulated more than 15 years or airline service. (A build is defined as the same basic engine that has been disassembled for inspection and then rebuilt to continue testing. It may or may not include new hardware.)

The team will be testing the engine at the Peebles site for the next several weeks. In early 2014, the second build of the engine will begin icing tests at GE’s testing site in Winnipeg, Canada, where winter temperatures dip regularly below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

CFM is developing three versions of the LEAP engine for three different single-aisle aircraft. The LEAP-1A engine will serve on Airbus A320neo planes. The LEAP-1B will power Boeing 737MAX jets, and the LEAP-1C will propel COMAC’s C919 aircraft.

CFM executives said that the LEAP will improve fuel consumption by 15 percent and deliver an equivalent reduction in CO2 emissions compared to today’s best CFM engine. It will also bring “dramatic reductions” in engine noise and emissions, the company said in a news release.

CFM has received orders for 5,446 LEAP engines valued over $70 billion. They include orders from carriers like AirAsia, Southwest, Virgin America, Lion Air, Pegasus, Qantas, WestJet and dozens of other airlines around the world.

The testing program for the LEAP-1A engine will culminate in engine certification in 2015. The first entry into commercial service on the Airbus A320neo is planned for 2016.

imageThe LEAP-1A on a test stand in Peebles. The engine fired for the first time on Sept. 4, two days ahead of schedule. After a series of break-in runs, the engine was operating smoothly and had reached full take-off thrust. image The black “turbulence control structure” is a high-tech wind shelter for testing jet engines. Its purpose is to smooth out the flow of air into a jet engine that is being tested. This is helpful during simulations of engine distress, including variations in fuel flow and “deterioration” of the engine compressor and turbine. Engineers also use it to reduce variation in thrust and fuel consumption data.The dome is made from an array of 300 flat aluminum honeycombs and perforated stainless steel plate panels of varying sizes.