PICTURES: General Electric GEnx-2B makes maiden flight aboard 747 testbed

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General Electric launched its flight test campaign for the Boeing 747-8 GEnx-2B engine in the skies over Victorville, California.

The five-hour maiden flight, which took place on 23 March, is expected to be the first of about 40 flights undertaken during the flight test programme.

"It's a busy year for the GEnx-2B with an aggressive flight-test programme on GE's 747 before it ultimately powers the new Boeing jet," says Tom Brisken, general manager of the GEnx programme.

The flight took the engine up to almost 40,000ft (12,200m) and demonstrated aircraft systems and instrumentation functionality while establishing the performance baseline of the powerplant.

747 genx-2b flying

 © General Electric

"We are excited to see the GEnx-2B successfully complete its first flight," says Mo Yahyavi, vice president and general manager for the 747 programme.

"This is yet another step toward bringing the 747-8 to market and providing our customers with an airplane that delivers the capabilities needed to be successful in today's competitive environment."

According to GE, the -2B shares the engine core and 80% line replaceable unit commonality with the GEnx-1B that powers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The key difference between the two is that the -2B bleeds air off the engine to power aircraft systems, whereas the -1B is based on a more-electric bleedless systems architecture.

Because of this common development heritage, "the [GEnx-2B] engine will benefit from the experience of GE's most extensive development programme to help ensure unrivalled engine maturity prior to entry into service," says the engine-maker.

The 787 and 747-8 have each been hit with significant delays in their development stemming from on-going design changes and supply chain management issues.

Boeing has, however, found accelerated progress on the 787 programme as its first flight nears and the first 747-8F begins structural integration.

747 genx-2b under wing

 © General Electric

The GEnx-2B engine is slated for certification later this year ahead of its first flight aboard the Boeing 747-8F late in the third quarter.

The GEnx-1B and -2B are expected to enter service in 2010 and the second quarter of 2011, respectively.

The first flight of the GEnx-2B also came along with recognition of the celebrated 40-year history of Boeing's 747. The powerplant was installed in the number two engine position under the wing of General Electric's 747-100 test bed, the original model of the jumbo jet.

The aircraft, registered N747GE, was the 16th delivered by Boeing and entered service with Pan American Airways in March 1970.