GE has achieved a significant milestone in its mission to deliver a more fuel-efficient aircraft engine: its powerful GE9X engine has received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). With the certification, GE can now begin production of the GE9X engine for commercial service. The engine, which integrates many 3D printed components, is designed for the Boeing 777X. Together, they will reportedly be 20% more fuel efficient than their predecessors.
Earlier this year, history was made (in the AM industry, at least) with the maiden flight of the Boeing 777X aircraft, which was powered by two GE9X engines, each comprising over 300 3D printed parts, including fuel nozzles. The fuel-efficient engine also integrates 3D printed titanium alumide engine blades, crafted by GE teams at Avio Aero in Italy and GE’s Additive Technology Center (ATC) in Ohio.
The GE9X engine also features a number of other non-AM components, including core parts made from ceramic matrix composites (CMCs), which enable the engine to withstand temperatures up to 1,315 degrees Celsius. This enables the engine to burn fuel more efficiently and generate more energy with fewer emissions. Another notable part of the engine’s construction is a 134-inch fan, made from sinuous carbon fiber composite blades. The fan is engineered to ingest as much air as possible to propel the aircraft forward.
“We’ve developed an aircraft-engine combination that I honestly think is going to be unbeatable in the marketplace,” said Karl Sheldon, a senior engineering executive at GE Aviation. “We piggybacked on a lot of technology development that came before us. We were really able to capitalize on lessons learned from what was new only a few years ago.”
The GE9X engine’s efficiency is also due in part to big data and analytics as well as a state-of-the-art sensor suite. Sheldon added: “The telemetry that will be available to provide data back to us as an engine manufacturer is really going to be unprecedented. We will have the ability to monitor engine pressures, temperatures, flows. The predictive capability of that engine will exceed anything that we’ve got out there today.”
The FAA certification process for the new engine was stringent and involved testing nine different engines. GE Aviation began testing the first one on land in 2017. These tests consisted of throwing everything at the engine, from water and hail exposure to bird ingestion. The team also carried out a “blade-out” test, in which it exploded a blade inside the engine while it was running. In another test phase, an engine underwent thousands of simulated takeoffs and landings in various conditions, after which the GE team disassembled it and inspected each component. “We lay out everything that can be physically separated,” Sheldon said. “Imagine an area almost as large as a football field where every little part is put on a table, cleaned, inspected and reported on.”
Eventually, an engine was shipped to Victorville, California where it underwent tests on GE Aviation’s flying testbed. Last year, the company started shipping the engines to Boeing so they could be trialled on the aircraft manufacturer’s four 777X test planes. Now that the FAA has certified the engine, GE has revealed it has received over 600 orders for its engine module. The Boeing 777X, for its part, is expected to enter service in the first half of 2022.
“There are things inside this engine that have never been done anywhere on the planet,” Sheldon concluded. “And this team figured it out. They are truly inventing the future of flight. I mean, they are really pushing the boundaries of the industry. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be on this team. Honestly, I’m amazed at their ability.”