Where the GE38 leads, others will follow

I learned in journalism school to always “follow the money”, but perhaps a better rule of thumb in the aerospace industry is to “follow the engines”.

In more ways than one, engine technology is the propelling force of the aerospace industry. Airframers learned a long time ago never to launch a new aircraft unless at least one of the big engine makers was ready — both technically and financially — to support it.


That’s partly why I’m fascinated by the General Electric GE38-1B [shown at right], the 7,500shp monster currently under development to power the new Sikorsky CH-53K. Pardon the cliche, but it literally goes where no engine has gone before, filling a yawning gap in the market for turboshaft engines.

Don’t think for a second that Sikorsky is the only airframer that recognizes such a new opportunity. Expect both helicopter and fixed-wing manufacturers to quickly leap into the market space created by the existence of an engine in a previously untapped thrust-range.

That’s why I wrote a one-page profile of GE’s plans for the GE38-1B in next week’s Flight International magazine. Click on the link below to get a sneak-preview.

GE taps new market with GE38-1B

By Stephen Trimble / Washington DC

Twoextremes divide the current market for large turboshaft engines. EuropropInternational occupies the high-end with the 10,000shp-class TP400. Rolls-Roycedominates the low-end with the 6,000shp-class Rolls Royce AE2100/1107C family.

Betweenthese extremes lies a currently vacant, vast middle ground ripe for developmentand growth over the next few decades.

First tomarket in this unpopulated market region will unquestionably be the GeneralElectric 7,500shp GE38-1B, selected 18 months ago to power the 84,700lb USMarine Corps Sikorsky CH-53K.

GE hasfinally disclosed the first details about the GE38′s closely-held developmentprogramme, as well as offered a glimpse of the company’s vision for theheavylift market space.

EdBirtwell, GE’s vice president and general manager for turboshaft engines,compared the new GE38′s market potential to that of the company’s flagshipT700, a 3,000shp-class engine that powers thousands of Sikorsky Black Hawk andBoeing AH-64 Apache helicopters, among many others.

“We hopethat this is a programme that has the success of the T700 with otherapplications,” Birtwell said.

To realizethat potential, new classes of heavylift helicopters and medium-lift,fixed-wing transports will have to emerge over the next decade. The marketcould include growth versions of existing helicopters like the CH-53K, as wellas possibly all-new aircraft.

“We willalways have a huge need for medium lift helicopters like the Black Hawk,” saidRhett Flater, executive director of the American Helicopter Society. “On theother hand, some of the experiences that the US Marine Corps and the army haveencountered in Afghanistanin particular, but also Iraq,justify the need for helicopters capable of carrying heavier payloads.”

Anotheroption for GE could be capturing a share of Rolls-Royce’s grip on theheavy-lift market.

The USMC isinvestigating the GE38-1B as a replacement for the AE1107C that powers theBellBoeing MV-22 Osprey, a medium-lift tiltrotor. USMC officials have expressedconcerns about the durability of the AE1107C after experiencing sand ingestionin Iraq.

“TheAE1107C compressor does not currently take advantage of protective coatings tominimize sand and dust erosion,” Rolls said in a statement.  “However, we have outlined with the customeran engine coating program to begin in-service evaluations in the near future.”

LockheedMartin also may have to upgrade the payload capacity of the venerable C-130JHercules, as the size of the vehicles for the army’s Future Combat System growsfrom about 20t to about 27t. At that time, the GE38 may be viewed as anattractive alternative to the Rolls AE2100.

Birtwelldeclined to comment about specific opportunities for the GE38 beyond theCH-53K, but clearly described GE’s strong interest in pursuing those options.

“GE made aninvestment in this program as well. It’s not just government money,” Birtwellsaid. “We did it for a reason. We are highly aware of the various otherapplications in this power class.”

GE’scompetitors are also well aware of this potential new market. Honeywell buildsthe 5,000shp T55-GA-714 engine for newer-model Boeing CH-47s, and hasadvertised a more powerful, next-generation version called the 55-L-71X.

Facing suchcompetitive pressure, GE is holding off on concepts for future applications tofocus on delivering the GE38-1B on time for Sikorsky’s CH-53K programme.

“We do needto focus on this one particular job because we want to get the engine rightfirst and then we can work on other things,” Birtwell said.

Earlierthis month, GE released engineering drawings for engine parts to the supplychain, he said. Passing that internal milestone means the company has finalizeddesign of the engine components, allowing fabrication of parts to begin for thefirst engine to test.

The first rigtest is scheduled in July to analyze the combustor. That will be followed by asecond rig test in the first quarter of 2009 to check the lubrication system atvarious engine attitudes in pitch and yaw.

The firstcomplete engine to test is scheduled to be installed on GE’s test stand in thefirst half of next year. GE is building a total of 20 engines to support 6,000hours of flight testing on five prototype CH-53Ks.

The GE38-1Bemerged as an outgrowth of the GE27 “mature technology demonstrator engine” inthe 1980s and the T407 proposed for the subsequently cancelled Lockheed P-7patrol aircraft. The GE38-1B is based on the same architecture, but boasts 20%more power than the T407 driven by an updated core hot section and a redesignedpower turbine.

For theCH-53K, GE was initially prepared to offer a growth version of the GE T64engine that currently powers the CH-53E fleet.

However,”as the requirement evolved the power requirement got to be such that it wasmore than the T64 architecture could handle,” Birtwell said.


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10 Responses to Where the GE38 leads, others will follow

  1. John S. 26 June, 2008 at 12:09 am #

    “The USMC is investigating the GE38-1B as a replacement for the AE1107C that powers the BellBoeing MV-22 Osprey, a medium-lift tiltrotor. USMC officials have expressed concerns about the durability of the AE1107C after experiencing sand ingestion in Iraq.”

    Is it not Rolls-Royce that is expressing doubt about the wisdom of selling the USMC and USAF ‘Power by the Hour’ for their MV- and CV-22s?

  2. Stephen Trimble 26 June, 2008 at 2:00 am #

    I don’t think I’m familiar with what you’re referring to … please explain?

    My acquaintance with this issue goes back much farther than I had space to describe. Back in 2004, Sikorsky officials told me during a visit to their Connecticut headquarters that they were pushing the USMC to re-engine the MV-22 through the CH-53K program. Obviously, that would serve Sikorsky’s best interests, but they also argued that the common engine fleet would save the USMC money too.

    Fast forward to March 2008. A USMC official at Navy League told reporters that the 1107C was facing durability issues and besides was not able to grow in parallel with the MV-22′s needs. The same official raised the option of switching to the GE38-1B engine.

    That’s the full extent of my knowledge about the USMC’s re-engining interests for the V-22, but I’d love to learn more.

  3. HerkEng 26 June, 2008 at 2:08 am #

    I would love to see Lockheed drop the “J” and go ahead with a Herk turning four of these bad boys in the old concept, C-130WBS mixed with the HTTB…now that would be one hell of a bird.

  4. keesje 26 June, 2008 at 9:23 pm #

    I think this engine could have potential not only in the militairy field (Bigger C130 replacement is on the horizon IMO).

    Airlines are pushing OEMS to come up with aircraft 20% more efficient & forget ’2020′. Turboshafts seem the only technology within reach for short haul high density city pairs.

    On pprune we took a look based on a TP400 based 150 seater:


  5. Stephen Trimble 26 June, 2008 at 9:29 pm #

    I’m not convinced the demand for turboprops is such to go as far as a 150-seater. You can’t fly a turboprop on the LAX-IAD or perhaps even the LA-ORD routes at sufficient speeds that customers will tolerate. The technology certainly supports the fuel efficiency improvement the airlines are looking for. But, if turbofans aren’t the answer, I wouldn’t expect anything less than Open Rotor in the 150+ seat range to fill the requirement. Just my thoughts. But it’s an interesting debate to have.

  6. John S. 26 June, 2008 at 11:13 pm #


    I based my comment on this and similar articles:


    When Rolls-Royce proposed a maintenance strategy back in 1998, it was a “power-by-the-hour” solution, Mulhern said, which has turned out to be insufficient.

    “That business case analysis predicted the engine components would last so many thousands of hours,” he said. “I’m not sure the government ever agreed with Rolls-Royce, but we thought it was a good business case. Now, as we actually operate the aircraft, the engines aren’t lasting as long as we [or the government] would like.”

    Rolls-Royce cannot support the current strategy, Mulhern said. They are unable to recoup the cost of engine maintenance under the power-by-the-hour plan. “We’ll have to move to more traditional engine support,” he said.

    I read this to mean that Rolls Royce is no longer willing to extend the “Power by the Hour” contract, and the USMC does not want to eat extra maintenance costs on the Liberty engine.

    Rolls Royce does say they have been looking at coatings for the compressor blades, and have a path to increase the Liberty to 7,000 SHP for future Osprey growth.

  7. Bad News 27 June, 2008 at 11:53 am #

    Also read your article on this subject. Your premise seems to be that the bigger engine will be needed to carry the Army’s FCS vehicles. While more powerful engines would enable the J-model to haul heavier loads, that does not solve the problem of the Herks box size. Besides being heavier, many of the FCS vehicles are too wide to fit on a Herk due to USAF safety isle requirements. Without a wider cargo compartment or relaxing of USAF safety rules, the J will not be able to deliver many of the FCS vehicles, even with a more powerful engine.

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