NBAA Convention News

GE Aviation Takes On a Titan with New Turboprop

 - November 16, 2015, 3:30 PM
GE Aviation is looking to take on Pratt & Whitney Canada’s venerable PT6 line with the launch of a new 850- to 1,650-shp turboprop family, and its first key win under its belt. GE Aviation formally launched the first entry of the still unnamed family, a 1,300-shp turboprop, which will power Textron Aviation’s new single-engine turboprop (SETP).

GE Aviation is looking to take on Pratt & Whitney Canada’s venerable PT6 line with the launch of a new 850- to 1,650-shp turboprop family, and its first key win under its belt. GE Aviation formally launched the first entry of the still unnamed family, a 1,300-shp turboprop, which will power Textron Aviation’s new single-engine turboprop (SETP). The Textron Aviation SETP contract, which Brad Mottier, v-p and general manager of GE Aviation’s Business and General Aviation and Integrated Systems division, said was the biggest program win in his 35-year aviation career, came in the face of fierce competition among a number of engine suppliers, including those not currently in the turboprop market.

GE Aviation (Booth N2304) is looking at this engine family to firmly cement its role in the marketplace, Mottier said, noting that until now Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) had locked up the space with more than 50,000 engines produced. “This is like the shot heard round the world. To compete and then win in this turboprop market where Pratt and Whitney dominates for half a century, it’s a once-in-a-career opportunity.”

The launch is part of a larger vision of GE Aviation to fill out its business and general aviation (BGA) portfolio. Just seven years ago this was essentially a one-engine business that brought in about $75 million to a portfolio of at least a handful of turboprop and turbojet engine families that is anticipated to bring in about $1 billion by 2020 and grow exponentially from there, Mottier said.

In 2008, Mottier was tasked to establish GE Aviation in the BGA market. At the time, GE had a strong presence in the military and commercial markets but only the CF34 turbofan in BGA. “BGA is a large market and we were a very small player. I was tasked with putting together a business and then growing it,” he said, adding, “We were challenged to compete in that marketplace that Pratt dominates.”

GE Aviation first looked to develop “domain expertise” through the acquisition of the Czech-based Walter Engines business. That business produced the M601, an engine similar to PT6 that GE Aviation used to confirm the cross-application of technologies from its commercial engines. “We infused those technologies, and the old M601s became the more advanced H Series.”

The new family fits in between the H Series, which can reach a maximum of 850 shp, and the CT7, which is designed to power larger regional aircraft along with rotorcraft.

“We wanted a new engine that could be different in the 1,300-to-1,650 range,” Mottier said, adding GE Aviation’s analysis determined that was a sweet spot in the market. The company took its concepts to airframers, and Textron indicated plans to issue a request for proposal, he said. The RFP was issued about a year ago.

While a clean sheet design, Mottier maintains that the program is lower risk because it incorporates proven technologies across its engine families. “That’s really been our strategy: take proven technology that’s developed and in use via our commercial engine business and then selectively apply that technology into small engines in this market space.”

The new engine has some similar traits of the smaller H80, such as the propeller gearbox style. “It’s a reverse-flow engine, the air enters the engine near the back of the engine and flows forward and out through exhaust stacks on the side. In that respect, it’s similar to the H Series,” he said. From its T700/CT7 turboprop/turboshaft, the new engine family will inherit cooled turbine blades that permit higher thrust and fuel efficiency. The compressor is derived from the T700/CT7 engine, he added. “It has 3-D aero and stator vanes like we have on the CT7.” The engine also will employ additive manufacturing capabilities developed originally for the CFM Leap turbofan.

New to the turboprop family will be what Mottier said is a first in the family’s target market, an integrated electronic propulsion control that optimizes single-lever engine and propeller control. But that too is a benefit derived from collaboration within GE Aviation. Mottier noted joint research that also included the company’s Dowty Propellers division. “Because the propeller and engines have never been really controlled as an integrated system, we started a study called ‘Impacta’ where we developed very sophisticated computer models of the propeller as it interacts with the engine, engine inlet, the wing and fuselage,” he said, noting the studies were initially funded for GE’s regional turboprop application for the CPX38. “We were able to take what we learned and, apply that knowledge and technology to this advanced turboprop with Textron, so the airframe-engine-propeller will be integrated as a system more than has ever been done before.”

The propulsion control will optimize propeller speed, propeller pitch and the engine. Rather than using a propeller control lever and a throttle, he said, “In this application there’s one lever, and the computer handles the propeller and the engine and optimizes that.”

The technologies will culminate in an engine family that has a 16:1 overall pressure ratio, which Mottier noted compares with the 9:1 to 10:1 range of competitor offerings. Also, GE Aviation expects the engine to provide up to 20 percent lower fuel burn and 10 percent more cruise compared with other entries in this market. GE Aviation plans to offer the engine with 4,000 to 6,000 mean time between overhaul.

While deferring details of Textron Aviation’s new SETP to the airframer, GE Aviation said the engine will help provide a range of more than 1,500 nm and speeds in excess of 280 knots. “Our single-engine turboprop will combine the best of entirely new, clean-sheet aircraft and engine designs,” said Christi Tannahill, senior v-p, turboprops and interior design for Textron Aviation.

Plans call for detailed design review for the turboprop to be conducted in 2017 with first full engine test in 2018.

The engine will be developed, tested and produced at the company’s new turboprop Center of Excellence in Europe. GE Aviation expects that facility will represent an investment of more than $400 million and between 500 and 1000 new jobs.

The Textron Aviation win was particularly important, Mottier said, because “it is the biggest customer in this market segment.” To launch a clean sheet program and make the investment–which he estimated in the $400 million to $500 million range in addition to the facilities–a certain amount of volume must be guaranteed, he said. “In BGA, there are many airframe manufactures. The beauty of Textron is they are the largest user of these types of engines. If you win Textron, you can justify a new program investment.”

The engine also can serve as the springboard for other applications, Mottier said. “Pratt has produced more than 50,000 engines. This is a turboprop engine. It can be used as a turboshaft in helicopters. It can be used for auxiliary power unit generators in commercial planes.”

As for the $1 billion, Mottier sees that growing as more engines from across the BGA segment enter the market as well as demand for support, spares and parts come into play.

The new family, which GE is referring to as the advanced turboprop for now, not only will join the company’s growing turboprop business, but a suite of turbine products that include the latest iterations of the CF34, the CF34-3 on the Challenger 605 and -3B MTO on the Challenger 650, the Passport for the Bombardier Global 7000/8000 and the GE Honda Aero HF120 that is being jointly produced with Honda.