GE Aviation is advancing jet propulsion and its next-generation engine core program, called eCore, through several private- and government-funded R&D programs, many with key technology milestones this year. eCore is designed to offer aircraft operators better fuel efficiency and lower emissions over GE’s best engines in operation today. (Earlier post.)
The engine core—comprising the compressor, combustor, and high-pressure turbine—is the heart of a jet engine. To this core, the fan system is attached to complete a jet engine. The fan provides thrust; the core provides the power to operate the fan and some thrust. The eCore program involves testing demonstrator engines and engine hot sections with aggressive technical goals, new materials and 3D aerodynamic designs, unique architectures, as well as advances in electric power and thermal management.
eCore will use ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) and advanced turbine alloys, unique aerodynamic cooling technologies, a next-generation twin-annular pre-mixed swirler (TAPS) combustor for lower emissions, and higher air compression.
More than 1,000 engineers, scientists and technical personnel across several GE Aviation facilities are engaged in these programs, as well as collaboration with GE Global Research in Niskayuna, New York. The programs include:
LEAP-X. The first version of eCore runs in mid-year as part of CFM International’s (50/50 joint company of GE and Snecma) LEAP-X engine program, a new turbofan engine for future replacements for current narrow-body aircraft. (Earlier post.) With the first core running this year, GE and Snecma are targeting the run of a full demonstrator engine in 2012, incorporating technologies developed over three years as part of the LEAP56 technology program.
The LEAP-X is rooted in advanced aerodynamics and materials technologies, such as CMCs and Titanium-Aluminide. This new turbofan will reduce the engine contribution to aircraft fuel burn by up to 16% compared to current CFM56 Tech Insertion engines powering Airbus A320 and Boeing Next-Generation 737 aircraft. Additional fuel burn improvements will be achieved once this engine is paired with new aircraft technology.
ADVENT (ADaptive Versatile ENgine Technology). Sponsored by the US Air Force (USAF), ADVENT involves game-changing technologies to greatly impact future military and commercial engines. (Earlier post.) The five-year program focuses on variable-cycle technologies to enable pilots to switch from combat maneuvers to long-range flight and accommodate lower fuel requirements of long-range missions and high performance during supersonic missions. GE will test CMCs and next-generation turbine alloys. With preliminary design review complete, core tests scheduled are for mid-2009.
AATE (Advanced Affordable Turbine Engine. AATE’s objective is to develop a 3,000-shaft-horsepower class engine with greater power, fuel efficiency and enhanced part durability and reliability for military attack and utility helicopters. US Army goals include a 25% reduction in specific fuel consumption, 65% improvement in power-to-weight ratio, 20% better design life, 35% lower production and maintenance costs and 15% lower development costs. GE has developed technologies for AATE since 1997 and was selected for five pre-AATE component areas: CMCs, advanced power turbine, mechanical systems, compact/high-power combustor and advanced compressors. In 2008, GE won a competition for the next phase of the AATE program, which is the technology demonstration program.
FATE (Future Affordable Turbine Engine). A follow-on to AATE is the US Army’s FATE program, focusing on a 7,000-shaft-horsepower class engine to power future heavy-lift helicopters. Goals include a 35% improvement in fuel efficiency, 20% reduction in development costs, 45% improvement in maintenance costs and 90% improvement in power-to-weight ratio. GE will test advanced materials and pursue aerodynamic improvements for high-pressure ratios. Competitions for component programs are under way. In September, GE received a contract on turbine cooling technology. A second round of contracts will be awarded this year to develop a compressor, followed by a four-year technology program scheduled to begin in 2012.
HEETE (Highly Efficient Embedded Turbine Engine). A three-year program sponsored by the USAF, HEETE focuses on embedded technologies for the endurance and range of future intelligent surveillance and reconnaissance, tanker, mobility and unmanned combat air vehicles. (Earlier post.) The first phase will fund development of an ultra-high-pressure ratio compressor and associated thermal management technologies—potentially the centerpiece of GE’s next compressor system. Along with a new high-pressure turbine, HEETE will provide a 25% improvement in fuel burn at a 70:1 overall pressure ratio in a full engine. GE completed detailed design and is procuring a compressor rig to run in 2010.
INVENT (INtegrated Vehicle ENergy Technology). The USAF Research Laboratory’s INVENT program is studying next-generation military electric power and thermal management systems for aircraft with integrated hybrid-electric system architectures. Goals include a 10 to 15% extension of range and endurance, 10 to 30% increase in power and thermal capacity, and lifecycle reduction costs. GE contracts involve preliminary designs of possible adaptive power and thermal management systems and robust electric power systems for possible integration into tactical, unmanned and long-strike platforms. An integrated ground demonstration is scheduled for 2012, with flight demonstrations planned for 2015.
Future Vehicle Aircraft Research (N+3 Designs). NASA contracted GE to study concepts for commercial aircraft 25 to 30 years from now. The concepts are called N+3, denoting technologies three generations beyond today’s aircraft. They face significant performance and environmental challenges set by NASA, including: an 80 decibel reduction in noise below current Stage 3; 80+% lower NOx emissions below CAEP 2; 70% improvement in fuel burn; and the ability to operate from small airports. GE, Georgia Institute of Technology and Cessna Aircraft Company will take an integrated airframer and propulsion system design approach to analyze a 10- to 30-passenger aircraft that can fly point-to-point service between small community airports. Potential designs include a traditional ducted turbofan and open-rotor or unducted fan engine designs.
Open Rotor. Last fall, GE announced a joint study with NASA related to an open rotor or unducted fan engine design. (Earlier post.) In the 1980s, GE successfully ground-tested and flew an open-rotor engine that demonstrated dramatic fuel savings. Since then, GE has advanced its data acquisition systems and computational tools to better understand open-rotor systems. GE also gained extensive experience with composite fan blades in its GE90 engine and GEnx engine. This year, GE and NASA will conduct wind tunnel tests, using a component rig, to evaluate subscale counterrotating fan blade designs and systems. Snecma (SAFRAN Group), GE’s longtime 50/50 partner in CFM International, will participate in fan blade design testing.
GE Aviation, an operating unit of General Electric Company, is a leading provider of commercial and military jet engines and components as well as avionics, electric power, and mechanical systems for aircraft. GE Aviation also has a global service network to support these offerings.