Guy Norris/LOS ANGELES
This year's Farnborough air show provides the stage for an extraordinary drama, the cut and thrust of which would defy even the most imaginative playwrights of the West End or Broadway.
The production casts General Electric (4/E1) and Pratt & Whitney (4/G1) in an unusual double billing. Joining them on stage, for the first time with a lead role in a Seattle-based epic, is Rolls-Royce (4/B1).
The plot is rich and varied. Two arch-rivals, GE and P&W, become entangled over Boeing's plan to launch the Boeing 747-500/600X series. Boeing, having recently endured the sometimes, painful process of certificating three engine types almost simultaneously on its 777 twinjet, is anxious to avoid a repeat performance. GE and P&W, having each swallowed the equally painful expense of GE90 and PW4084 development costs feel the same way.
An approach is made in the torrid atmosphere of Asian Aerospace '96. Boeing hears the rumours and whispers encouragement, and the two engine makers announce their intent to join as star-crossed lovers in a joint venture. As far as they are concerned, the new engine for the stretched 747 will be an all-US affair.
Like any good thriller, however, the unexpected happens. R-R enters stage right, looking surprisingly confident. Far from feeling like a jilted lover, the UK engine maker points out that, for the first time since the Boeing 757 was developed, it has a power plant already available for the aircraft manufacturer's new project. R-R has scored some success on all the wide-body programmes, including that of the Boeing 777, but it has always been presented as option number three. Now, for the first time, it suddenly has the prospect of competing for 50% of the market, rather than fighting for a hard-won third.
So, the stage is set for Act Three of this drama at Farnborough. What can the audience expect?
The spotlight will be on GE and P&W which are expected to announce the structure of their joint venture on 2 September. Many of the technical details have already been publicly sketched out by the two engine companies, or have been leaked through the member airlines of the Boeing advisory group. What remains are the last major technical decisions on the fan and whether it should be a 2.8m or a 2.75m-diameter unit. The two manufacturers are also expected to spell out more details of each company's contribution. GE is to supply the high-pressure (HP) compressor, combustor and HP turbine. P&W is responsible for the hollow titanium fan, low-pressure (LP) compressor and LP turbine.
WHO WILL LEAD?
The industry will also discover where the new engine, a 356kN (80,000lb)-thrust turbofan derated to around 342kN, will be built. It will also find out who will lead the venture and how it will be organised and operated.
Other crucial questions will also need to be answered. Why, for example, is P&W so enthusiastic about the joint venture when a relatively straightforward development of its successful PW4000 series may have sufficed? Why is GE apparently so willing publicly to shy away from a new use of the GE90 - a move bound to be interpreted by some airlines as a virtual abandonment of its new big fan. Is GE happy to let the hugely expensive engine stay dedicated to the 777 and be viewed as a perhaps unwanted child?
R-R, meanwhile, will be giving more details about the Trent 900 design, which borrows from the best of both the 700 and 800. The engine will have the 2.8m-diameter fan and combustor of the Trent 895, scaled 895 intermediate-pressure (IP) and HP compressors, a new five-stage LP turbine, and "reduced-loading" IP and HP turbines. To ensure that the snug fit beneath the new 747 wing does not create interference drag, R-R is also working on a "slim-line" version of the 777 nacelle to wrap around the power plant.
Of course, the engine announcements depend entirely on what progress Boeing makes towards signing up customers for the advanced 747. A group of Asian carriers is widely expected to sign an agreement to purchase the aircraft in a ceremony similar to that at the 1995 Paris air show at which the stretched 777-300 was effectively launched.
Boeing is pushing to take advantage of its lead with the 747 before Airbus Industrie can pose a serious threat with its A3XX. Airbus is determined to fight for the 400-seater-plus market and believes that its clean-sheet design will be more efficient than Boeing's 747-based compromise. Airbus is also, therefore, the target for the P&W-GE joint venture and the Trent 900, although the greater flexibility of the Airbus design may give the engine makers slightly more latitude.
Another potential user of the joint-venture power plant, although possibly more suited to an engine of the Trent 700 size, is the proposed McDonnell Douglas (MDC) MD-XX. This long-awaited re-winged and stretched MD-11 seems to be closer to fruition than the aborted double-deck MD-12 project of 1992. Development of the four-engined wide-body stalled following MDC's failure to conclude its partnership with Taiwan Aerospace. The project submerged in 1994, taking much of MDC's long-term commercial credibility with it. American Airlines, Delta Airlines and Swissair are believed to be among the airlines interested in the new MD-XX.
While much of the attention is fixed on the mid-term future, a lot will be paid to the more immediate fortunes of the "big three", and particularly their respective big fans. P&W will give details of the first phase of flight-testing of its first PW4084 growth version, the PW4090. It will also be briefing airlines on plans for the PW4098, which will power the stretched 777-300 and ultra-long-range versions of the Boeing twin, be it the 777-100X or -200X.
R-R is expected to announce the imminent extended-range twinjet operations (ETOPS) clearance of the Trent 895, which completed 1,001 cycles of testing on 27 July. The Trent programme, still basking in the glory of its Singapore Airlines 777 victory, is expected to be further bolstered by more orders. Possible plans for a future Trent/RB.211-524 hybrid improvement for 747 users may also be detailed.
GE may well announce its long-awaited ETOPS clearance for the GE90, which completed its delayed 1,000-cycle testing in late July. It will also provide details of plans for the flight-testing of the next version, the GE90-92B, for the 777-200IGW.
The US company's public relationship with Snecma (1/C9), its long-term French ally, will also be under close scrutiny following the boardroom bust-ups which are alleged to have occurred behind the scenes earlier this year. Snecma's decision to remain a 25.5% risk-sharing partner in the development of the GE90 growth versions, plus the departure of former chairman Bernard Dufour, seems set to keep the marriage happy. GE's late decision to move straight to the development of a 445kN, -100B version of the GE90 (rather than proceed via intermediate steps) looks likely to slash the new derivative's cost to less than $500 million.
GE's other big engine, the hugely successful CF6 series which has its 25th anniversary this year, will also be in the news. The CF6 seems to be favoured as the beneficiary of the surprise signing of an exclusive agreement between GE and Airbus to power the stretched A340-600. The engine is now expected to be in the 245kN range (as opposed to 226kN when the announcement was made in April), and will power a proposed aircraft with a range of 375-passenger, 13,000km (7,000nm). This will be a direct rival to the 777, and if it is built the MD-XX.
GE KILLS CFM'S EXPANSION?
The announcement took many by surprise, since Snecma had been advocating the 190kN CFMXX as the most likely candidate. Snecma wanted to lead the programme with development of the important HP section, and by refusing to agree to its request, GE effectively killed the CFMXX. In another way, the agreement may have also damaged, or delayed at least, the further development of P&W's Advanced Ducted Prop (ADP). The ADP was strongly tipped to power any future A340 stretch of this magnitude, and questions will be asked of both the future of the ADP and the CFM family.
For the moment, CFM International (CFMI) is almost delirious with success over the seemingly endless sales of the new-generation 737 for which it is sole supplier with the CFM56-7B. Combined with continued success on the Airbus standard-body line, CFMI is expected soon to break the 7,000 civil-engine sales mark. CFMI is expected to announce the successful completion of tests of the -7B, as well as to detail its continued sales war with International Aero Engines (IAE).
To IAE's relief, the mood at Long Beach is somewhat more optimistic today. Sales of MDC's V2500-powered MD-90 finally began to pick up in late 1995 and early 1996 the latest breakthrough being a sale of up to ten aircraft to a Taiwan-based leasing company. The engine company is also fighting hard for more Airbus business, having completed its hat-trick when it began flight tests on the A319 earlier this year. BMW Rolls-Royce (3/D8) has also had some anxious moments at Long Beach waiting for sales of the BR715-powered 100-seat MDC MD-95 to take off. Although the prospects of MD-95 launch customer ValuJet taking its 50-plus aircraft are looking shaky, MDC is expected to make several new customer announcements at the show, many of which are believed to be refugees from the Fokker collapse.
Some Fokker survivors, such as the relatively large F28 fleet, could spark some news as R-R continues to search for a US-based company willing to engage in a possible Tay re-engineing programme. The continuing regional-jet battle will also provide a talking point (see feature, P60) with emerging power plants such as the PW6000, CFM56-9, and Allison AE3012 pitted against the relatively established GE CF34-8 and BR700.
Source: Flight International