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Ex-JAL 747 finds new life as Leap-X testbed

Flight trials of CFM International's new Leap-X engine, an option for the Airbus A320neo, will be carried out on a new Boeing 747-400 testbed.

General Electric has acquired the 747-400, an ex-Japan Airlines airframe, which will undergo structural modification and renovation to prepare for the work.

The aircraft, powered by GE CF6-80C2 engines, will replace the company's 747-100 flying testbed and be based at its California facility in Victorville.

GE will redesign and reinforce the aircraft's wing to take on the load of the Leap-X as well as other potential future engine designs.

"The interior will also be modified and GE will install data systems for testing and systems integration equipment to transform the aircraft into a flying testbed," it says.

Japan Airlines completed the phasing-out of its Boeing 747-400s on 1 March, closing its operations with the 747 family after 41 years.

The carrier operated 112 of the iconic jets after taking its first 747-100 in 1970, including a high-density 747-400D with 568 seats, which was used for domestic operations.

It started introducing the 747-400 in early 1990 and had 34 for international use, plus eight for domestic routes, and two freighters.

JAL performed its last two 747-400 flights to Tokyo Narita from Honolulu and Okinawa. The fleet is being withdrawn in favour of smaller-capacity types including the Boeing 767, 777 and 787.

Manufactured in 1994, the 17-year-old aircraft (N356AS) served with Japan Airlines before being withdrawn as the carrier phased out its entire 747-400 fleet as part of a broad restructuring.

"We selected this aircraft for purchase since it was well-maintained by Japan Airlines' engineering team," says GE Aviation general manager of assembly, test and overhaul Colleen Athans.

The company's 747-100 test aircraft, which it has used since 1992, is the oldest 747 operating in the USA and the fifth-oldest in the world.

GE is investing $60 million in the acquisition and refurbishment of the 747-400, adding that it will be the airframe used for testing the Leap-X once the overhaul is completed in about two years' time. The new engine has been selected for the Chinese Comac C919 and is one of two offered for the A320neo.

Leap-X's development has progressed with the selection of Safran Group's Aircelle division to supply the integrated nacelle package for the A320neo version of the engine. Aircelle says the nacelle will incorporate technology derived from the nacelles used on the Airbus A380.

 

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