Aircraft engine makers flying into a brighter future
Quieter planes with lower emissions are set for take-off
A high-pitched buzz throbbed across the Hampshire airfield, prompting spectators
to put down their Pimms and crane their necks at the aircraft soaring above them.
about its engines. One was conventional, while the other had two rows of curved
propellers protruding hedgehog-like from the rear. This was the source of the
years ago. It was a prototype from General Electric, the US aero-engines group,
which claimed it would use much less fuel than standard designs. It never made
it into production, and was pushed into the footnotes of aviation history by falling
fuel prices and noise worries.
asked GE to resurrect and update the design. Trials start in Cleveland, Ohio,
next month with the same test rig used 20 years ago. Nasa had kept it, just in
and lower emissions that is gripping the industry. The big players – Rolls-Royce,
GE, Pratt & Whitney and France’s Snecma – are spending hundreds of millions
of pounds a year on research and development, driven by the long-term prospect
of high oil prices and harsh scrutiny of aviation’s contribution to green-house-gas
risks being marginalised. The prize, on the other hand, is considerable, with
industry leaders forecasting a new generation of planes that use 50% less fuel
and are quieter than the best aircraft flying today.
out more efficiency. Mark King, president of commercial aero-space at Rolls-Royce,
points out that the new version of its Trent engine is 15% more efficient than
the 1995 original.
of commercial aviation, the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. New planes were expected
around 2013, but are not now likely until around 2020, by which time some radical
new engines should be ready to fly.
conglomerate United Technologies Corporation (UTC) is pressing ahead with its
"geared turbofan" (GTF). The new engine was shown in public for the first time
last week in Toulouse, France, where it has been undertaking flight trials with
Airbus. Pratt has spent over $1 billion ( £684m) and two decades on the engine,
which will go into service in 2013 on planes built not by Airbus or Boeing, but
by Bombardier of Canada and Japan’s Mitsubishi.
engine. This lets the high-temperature gas turbine at its heart run faster and
more efficiently than on a conventional turbofan. Pratt claims the GTF will cut
fuel burn by up to 15%, with a corresponding reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions.
It makes even greater claims on noise, claiming a 50% decrease, which translates
into more than 70% in noise-affected areas around airports. Pratt said airlines
using the engines could save over $1.5m a year per plane.
of the new Airbus and Boeing planes, saying: "It gives us time to work on a second
generation of engines."
similar savings from improved standard turbofans. They are both working on new
versions of the unducted fan that howled over Farnborough – now called the "open
be fixed and he expected open rotor to bring fuel savings of about 30%.
noise and other practicalities led it to pursue the geared fan instead.
to cut carbon and fuel use. "We are taking a fundamental look at the problem by
talking to plane makers about what their next products will look like. We want
to lead thinking in the sector."