Two decades ago, scientists at GE Global Research in New York came up with a new material that could make jet engines lighter and burn less fuel. But the material was a form of ceramics, which ordinarily break on impact. Lab tests showed that it should be fine. But to make their case, the researchers partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy and shot the material, called Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMCs), with a steel bullet flying at 150 miles per hour.
The bullet bounced back like a tennis ball. Today, CMCs serve inside next-generation LEAP engines that are being developed by CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation and France’s Snecma. CMCs help make the engines as much as 15 percent more efficient because they are much lighter than steel alloys and can work at temperatures as high as 2,400⁰F. This means millions in fuel savings. No wonder that airlines are paying attention.
GE and CFM have booked $17.5 billion in orders and maintenance service contracts at the Farnborough International Airshow held this week in England. This includes more than 700 LEAP orders, as well as orders for GE’s advanced GEnx engines and GE90, the world’s largest and most powerful jet engine. “The results from this year’s show are proof that GE Aviation and CFM International are on the right technology path,” says David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation.
Although many of the orders come from foreign airlines like Virgin Australia, Taiwan’s EVA Airways, and Brazil’s Azul Airlines, key engine components will be manufactured and assembled by American workers at GE’s plants in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wilmington, North Carolina, and Batesville, Alabama.
“We sustain production in the United States because of our ability to compete on the global markets, not in spite of it,” says GE Vice Chairman John Rice. “The engines that we put on Airbus or Boeing aircraft that fly out of China or Indonesia or Brazil create [U.S.] jobs.”