GE’s New Icing Test Facility Begins Operation

 - February 10, 2012, 10:28 PM
GE’s icing test cell in Winnipeg consists of seven fans driven by 250-hp variable frequency motors. (Photo: Matt Thurber)

On an unused corner of James A. Richardson International Airport in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a massive structure has emerged, the newest test cell in GE Aviation’s stable. GE built the test cell because it needed more engine-testing capacity, especially for this unit’s specialty: the creation of icy blasts of fog to test turbine engines’ ability to keep running reliably when flying through icy clouds. The facility, officially called the testing, research and development center (TRDC), received FAA certification for icing tests early this month and took shape under a partnership between GE Aviation and StandardAero.

GE’s test cell at Mirabel International Airport in Montreal opened in 2006, but in July 2010 airport authorities notified GE that they needed the space for other airport activities and the cell would have to be moved. While the airport wanted the test cell to stay, the cost of building a new concrete pad for it would have proved enormous. And Winnipeg holds one huge advantage when it comes to icing tests—a longer season of suitably cold weather. For the critical icing tests, outside temperatures need to be between minus 4 and minus 20 degrees Celsius, and Winnipeg weather meets that requirement for about two more months a year. The proximity to the 1,400 StandardAero employees in the city represents another advantage for Winnipeg.

With the size of the largest turbine engines creeping well over the 100,000-plus-pound range, GE also needed a facility large enough to accommodate the biggest engines imagined. It therefore built the Winnipeg TRDC to test engines with up to 150,000 pounds of thrust and as large as 150 inches in diameter.

The TRDC’s axial translating wind tunnel is equipped with seven fans driven by 250-hp variable-frequency motors that spin up the wind needed to run the engine tests. At full power, the fans draw two megawatts, now provided by a bank of diesel generators. Future plans call for less expensive electricity from Manitoba Hydro to power the fans, another advantage of the Winnipeg site.

In addition to icing tests, the TRDC will allow future performance and endurance, bird ingestion, ice crystal and mixed-phase testing on a variety of engines.