Thursday, February 2, 2012

GE Heads North For New Jet Engine Ice Test Facility

GE Heads North For New Jet Engine Ice Test Facility:

Jet engines on airliners can swallow a fair amount of ice during a flight, and to make sure they’re up to the task, engine makers bombard them with all kinds of frozen water. This week General Electric pulled the cover off its newest engine testing facility in the appropriately cold location of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The testing ground is designed to take advantage of the cold Canadian winters for ice certification of new jet engines.

Because a jet engine can encounter icing conditions as it flies through clouds, the Federal Aviation Administration requires several tests to ensure engines can operate in freezing conditions. Tests include blasting engines with tiny ice particles similar to those found in clouds, as well as coating engine parts in ice. That’s done to check the associated risk of those parts being iced over and the risk of ice breaking loose and going deeper into the engine.

General Electric says Winnipeg’s 50-plus days of sub-zero temperatures annually makes the new location ideal for cold weather testing. The company runs another test facility in Peebles, Ohio, but the weather there isn’t reliabily cold enough.

Seven fans push air through the 21-foot wind tunnel before 125 nozzles spray tiny water droplets that freeze before pelting the test engine, which normally would be mounted where the plastic is in the top photo. The facility also will perform other tests, including bird ingestion testing (typically performed with dead turkeys tossed into the engine.) and water/torrential rainstorm simulations.

The seven high powered fans that push the air through the wind tunnel at GE's new engine test facility.

New jet engines are key to commercial aviation’s push for greater fuel efficiency. Airplane makers like Boeing and Airbus rarely miss the chance to tout how new airplanes such as the 787 Dreamliner or A350 XWB consume much less fuel than comparable airliners. Engines from General Electric, Rolls Royce, Pratt & Whitney and others account for a large part of those fuel savings.

The first version of the new GE engines on the 787 initially missed some key efficiency requirements. But the next generation GEnx-1B engines flew for the first time Wednesday on GE’s 747 test airplane over California’s Mojave desert. The new engines include small changes to the design that should recover most of the missing efficiency GE hoped for when the engines were designed. The engine is expected to receive certification this summer.

The Boeing 787 is offered with both General Electric and Rolls Royce jet engines. The only 787s currently flying, with All Nippon Airways of Japan, use Rolls Royce engines.

In other news, last week saw a few headaches for some early long-haul flights by ANA’s new 787, according to Flight Global. On two flights from Tokyo to Frankfurt, passengers ended up flying on Boeing 777s instead after a flap malfunction and software issue forced the new Dreamliner into the maintenance shop. The relatively minor issues were quickly repaired and the plane returned to service.

Photo: GE

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