GE Aviation is no stranger to the business aviation world. Its CF34 engines have powered Challengers for 30 years, while its larger engines are used by Airbus Corporate Jets and Boeing Business Jets (through its CFM joint venture with France’s Snecma). It is currently bringing the HF120 turbofan (in the GE Honda Aero joint venture with Honda Aircraft) and Passport 20 (for Bombardier’s Global 7000/8000) to the marketplace. However, through the 2008 acquisition of Walter in the Czech Republic, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based engine giant entered the small/medium turboprop market and is looking to grow this business to provide a real alternative to Pratt & Whitney Canada’s near-ubiquitous PT6A family.
“It’s the start of a journey for us into the small turboprop world,” said Jim Stoker, president of GE’s Business and General Aviation (BGA) Turboprops division. Speaking with AIN at the GE’s new Kbely plant in the Czech Republic last week, Soker added, “Turboprops are small for us at the moment, but we’ve got some pretty aggressive growth plans targeted.” Most of GE’s $20 billion annual business is generated in the military and airline segments, but the company is seeking to become a major player in the business and GA sectors. “It is a fundamentally different business,” commented Stoker. “What’s expected in that marketplace is very different from the commercial world.”
Acquiring Walter in July 2008 was an important first step, as the Czech company has a long history of engine manufacture and a proven, reliable engine in production. This is the M601, best known as the powerplant for the Let 410 utility transport/19-seat airliner. After buying Walter, GE moved the plant to a new and more efficient facility at Kbely. The division was officially launched as GE BGA Turboprops in April 2010.
Since then the division has launched the H80 engine. Based on the elegant simplicity of the M601, the H80 also incorporates GE’s advanced technology and advanced materials to significantly improve performance and TBO. The H80 is actually a family of three engines (H75, H80 and H85), which, though physically identical, have different ratings (750, 800 and 850 shp).
The first commercial success for the H80 was adoption by Thrush for the company’s 510G agricultural aircraft, which is being supplied to China, among other countries. Aircraft Industries of the Czech Republic has selected the H80 for all new Let 410 production, while the H75 is available for retrofit to older Let 410s under a supplementary type certificate (STC).
GE is courting a wide range of OEMs and reports good interest in its engines. Two new aircraft types are to fly with H80 power, the Russian Technoavia Rysachok and the Chinese Caiga Primus 150. The twin-engine Rysachok prototypes are flying with M601s at the moment but will begin flying with H80s this year. Meanwhile, the Primus 150 six-seat fast- and high-flying single-engine business turboprop is due to make its first flight with H85 power later this year.
While providing power for new aircraft is the main aim of GE BGA Turboprops, the division’s products are also suitable for a range of re-engining programs. In January a King Air 90 was redelivered following re-engining with H80s under an STC developed by Smyrna Air Center of the U.S. for its Power90 program.
Through both new production and retrofits, the H80 family is set to become an increasingly important competitor in the small/medium turboprop market. According to GE it offers around 10 percent lower operating costs compared to the PT6A-34/35, and the company has plans for continuing improvements. Furthermore, the H80 family is just the start of growth for GE in the wider sector, with a number of additional capabilities under active study.