GE Aviation has delivered for ground testing the first of a new class of turboshaft engines that could be adapted to power 70-100-seat regional airliners in five years.
The first GE38 was delivered to Sikorsky for the US Marine Corps CH-53K helicopter programme. Four more engines will be delivered to support ground testing, with 20 flight test engines to follow. The Marines plan to buy 196 CH-53Ks, each powered by three of the 7,500shp-class GE38s.
But the GE38 also is hoped by GE to become "the cornerstone for a new turboshaft/turboprop engine family" aimed at a new class of large regional airliners that could be launched after 2016.
Although the CH-53K development schedule has slid backward at least three years, GE has kept the GE38 on the original timeline in anticipation of commercial market opportunities.
The CPX38 study launched by GE is considering several possible applications, said Tim Varga, GE's manager of new turboprop programmes. The commercial engine family could be centred in the 5,000shp-range, but power requirements will be set by airframers, Varga said.
Both Bombardier and ATR have indicated interest in a 90-100-seater turboprop to follow the 70-seat Q400 and ATR-72, respectively. But both airframers have postponed a final decision on programme launch into 2012.
Last year, GE was preparing to support an entry into service (EIS) for a new airliner by 2015. But Varga said the absence of a decision by the airframers makes a new aircraft unlikely now before 2016.
"We're halfway through 2011 and 2015 becomes a challenge to make EIS," Varga said.