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
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
“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.