It was Tuesday, August 20 when our group of 14 from all over GE Aviation in the Americas assembled for a three-day, four-city tour of Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, the GE Celma engine overhaul facility in Petrópolis, the new engine test cell in Três Rios, and ultimately the headquarters of Embraer in São José dos Campos, near the metropolis of São Paulo.
This was the fifth trip in a series of 10 for our 100 Flights program celebrating GE Aviation’s 100-year anniversary—a chance to make connections with our colleagues, our customers and our purpose. We soon discovered that one of the best parts of our experience would be the warm, inviting, take-pride-in-the-work-they-do attitudes of our Brazilian hosts.
Our heads were literally in the clouds for much of the time in Rio, but our feet were planted firmly on the ground. (Well, not always, but more about that in a moment.)
Rio was socked in by rain and fog—it’s winter down there, after all—which made it a little challenging to see the sights. But we managed to explore them anyway. Our first excursion: Up Corcovado Mountain via train to one of the seven wonders of the world: the colossal sculpture of Christ the Redeemer. It’s an amazing monument to see, even when—or perhaps especially when—shrouded in a fine mist. And who knew there would be a direct tie to GE? Apparently, the company was the very first to illuminate the statue.
After the train ride down Corcovado, it was on to the famous Sugarloaf Mountain, a massive, pineapple-shaped monolith that rises out of Guanabara Bay near the central part of the city.
I have to admit I wasn’t very familiar with this local landmark, even though it famously appears in the 1979 James Bond movie Moonraker (which I have seen). But that would change as our aerial cable car slowly made the 1,300-foot climb—first up to the top of Morro da Urca, overlooking the world-famous Copacabana Beach, and then in a second car to the even higher peak of Sugarloaf itself.
Needless to say, this was the part where our heads were in the clouds while our feet floated hundreds of feet off the ground. The views of Rio stretching out for miles under the night sky were breathtaking.
Our second day began with more ascending: a 90-minute bus ride up into the mountains to GE Celma, about 50 miles north of Rio near the city of Petrópolis.
We arrived just in time for a lunch and grand tour with the very gracious Julio Talon, GE Celma’s site operations leader, and his team. Right off the bat, our group was struck by the topography that Celma inhabits: it basically sprawls up the slopes of a mountain at an altitude above 2,500 feet.
The team at Celma handles new-make CF34-10E engine assembly, along with overhaul and repair on CF6, GEnx, CFM56 and other GE and CFM International engines. Considering they overhaul more than 500 aircraft engines a year, a number that continues to grow at a rapid pace, it’s remarkable to see how they’ve mastered the process of moving the engines up and down the mountain.
After the main facilities tour, we were back on the bus for the 45-minute drive to GE’s new test cell in Três Rios, which can handle engines with up to 150,000 pounds of thrust and is arguably the largest test facility in the southern hemisphere. Specifically built for overhauled engines such as the GEnx, by the end of 2020 Três Rios will be accommodating CFM’s CFM56 and LEAP engine families, as well as GE’s CF6 powerplants.
Not only is the gigantic test cell impressive with its special acoustics panels and other high-tech features, it is situated within the 5,700 square meters (61,354 square feet) of under-roof facilities at the site—enough to do some extensive expansion. The plan is to eventually fill up the site space with many different types of engines for new-make assembly, as well as heavy overhaul and component repair.
“Being a software engineer and working in abstractions, sometimes I can feel a little disconnected from some of the more tangible elements that power our business,” said Dustin Hemard from GE Aviation’s digital business. “Touring GE Celma and getting to witness dozens of engines being carefully examined and assembled, smelling the machine oil, and eventually standing inside of our large test cell in Três Rios left me in awe.”
The pinnacle of our trip to Brazil was the visit we paid on Day 3 to our longtime customers at Embraer in São José dos Campos. As it happens, Embraer is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Little did we realize that our friends and colleagues at Embraer would roll out the red carpet for us in honor of our 100th.
Embraer and GE Aviation have been working closely together for more than 20 years. The relationship began with the CF34-8E, which continues to power Embraer’s E170-100 and E175-100 aircraft to this day, and has evolved to include the CF34-10E, the engine of choice for the E190 and E195 regional aircraft as well as the Embraer Lineage 1000 large business jet (a variant of the E190 commercial aircraft).
Embraer’s reception was top-notch. They went all out for their engine supplier with a complete facility tour, a special lunch with presentations, and a formal toasting ceremony to finish up a phenomenal day of festivities.
Embraer’s facilities are impressive, and our team was particularly interested to see how they paint the planes. While other manufacturers wait until assembly is complete before they paint an aircraft, Embraer has devised a method that significantly reduces both time and cost by painting the wings, fuselage, and other airframe components individually before final assembly. The trickiest part is assembling the plane without compromising the beautiful paint job.
Everyone who went on the trip came away with a renewed appreciation for Embraer’s commitment to quality and the depth of the relationship that the two companies have developed over the decades.
“It was great to start getting to know some of the Embraer employees,” said Tim DePuy, an engineer at GE Aviation in Evendale, Ohio. “In my acoustics work, there may be times when I may have to work with Embraer in the future, so it was nice to meet some of them now.”
“I was thrilled to visit Embraer and the great team that became my close friends and colleagues over the six-plus years I supported their E-Jet program,” said Steve Petersen, a propulsion engineer on the GE90 program.
Flaviane Costa, one of our 10 GE Aviation employees who attended the event at Embraer, is a mechanic at the GE Celma facility, following in the footsteps of her father Francisco Dos Santos Costa, a grinding machine operator at the facility’s tooling shop. Costa was overjoyed at being able to visit Embraer’s headquarters, not least because she was greeted several times throughout the day by Embraer employees who had worked with her father over the years and had great respect for him.
This was an emotional moment for Costa, and it epitomizes why we embarked upon the 100 Flights employee recognition program in the first place: to connect more effectively with the GE Aviation legacy, the aviation industry at large, our customers, and to recognize the impact each of us can have in our work lives and personal interactions every day.
As Ivan Perez, an engineer based in Queretaro, Mexico, put it: “During the trip, we were a small group of people. You can quickly notice how we represent GE from different sites—yet ultimately we are all looking to achieve greatness.”
The 100 Flights Employee Recognition Program was developed as part of GE Aviation’s 100-Year Anniversary. 100 employees were randomly selected to share our history at key sites and shows around the world. They will have the opportunity to see what we do, how we do it, and why we do it, creating an experience that inspires a connection to our Purpose. Employees will see how their work directly impacts our business and the world first-hand while experiencing our rich culture and history.