Pratt and Whitney Flying High On PurePower Momentum

 - April 15, 2011, 11:00 AM
Plans call for the PW1524G on the test stand during Pratt & Whitney’s Media Day late last month in West Palm Beach, Fla., to fly on the company’s Boeing 747 testbed by midyear. (Photo: Pratt & Whitney)

Thanks in large part to the emergence of the PW1000G PurePower Geared TurboFan, Pratt & Whitney has staged what some might consider a stunning reversal in fortunes since its failure to win a place on the Boeing 787 and the well documented trials of the PW6000 just a few years back. Since AIN posted its last Air Transport Perspective on March 25, the Connecticut-based engine company landed one of its biggest engine orders in the past 50 years–namely, the selection by India’s IndiGo of the PW1100G for its planned fleet of 150 A320neos–and secured Lufthansa’s choice of the GTF for 30 Neos. All told, Pratt & Whitney has drawn commitments for more than 1,260 PurePower-family engines, including options.

Most recently named the lead powerplant for the Airbus’s re-engining project, the PurePower family has given Pratt & Whitney’s commercial engine business an undeniable credibility boost, allowing company president Dave Hess a new degree of self-confidence during the company’s annual Media Day, held March 31 near Pratt & Whitney’s Rocketdyne plant in West Palm Beach, Fla.

“As you can see we have real hardware, real engines…and our competitors [have] marketing brochures, which accounts for some of the success that we’re having in the marketplace right now booking these early launch orders,” Hess said at the event. He predicted that his company would win a place on more than half of the 4,000 A320neos Airbus expects to sell.

Bob Saia, Pratt & Whitney vice president of new-generation products, talked with AIN during Media Day about the integration challenge inherent in retrofitting an engine on existing design such as the A320. Happily for Airbus and Pratt & Whitney, the A320 afforded the engine’s designers enough ground clearance to make the PW1100’s fan 81 inches in diameter–an ideal size for the thrust class required for the A320 family and the roughly 3:1 ratio between the speed the low-pressure compressor and turbine turns and the fan’s RPM. In fact, according to Saia, the proportion between the size of the fan and the rest of the engine for the A320neo virtually mirrors that of the C Series, which uses a 73-inch fan. 

Saia told AIN that if Boeing chose to re-engine the 737, the lack of ground clearance available would restrict fan size by between 10 to 12 inches, which would translate into a lower bypass ratio and perhaps less efficiency. But he insisted Pratt could find a solution by lowering the ratio between the speed of the fan and the low-pressure side of the engine to 2.8:1 or 2.9:1. Boeing expects to decide by the middle of this year whether or not it will re-engine the 737 or design a “clean sheet” airplane.

In either case, Pratt expects to earn strong consideration from Boeing, as well as from China’s Comac and Brazil’s Embraer, for a place on their respective projects, said Hess.

Meanwhile, by all accounts the program continues to make solid technical progress as well. The first C Series engine ran 200 hours, said Hess, and has so far validated all the performance guarantees the company set for it. As the company prepared to send the first PW1200G for the Mitsubishi MRJ to its test stand in West Palm Beach, the first PW1524G for the C Series had already arrived in Manitoba, Canada, for icing tests. At the time, the company started readying the second C Series engine–still on the test stand during Media Day–for first flight aboard the company’s Boeing 747 test bed by the middle of this year, possibly in time for the Paris Air Show.