Although soccer’s most coveted trophy is not coming home to England this summer after all — it’s going to spend the next four years in France — thousands of aviation enthusiasts are making the trip here. This weekend they started descending on Farnborough, a midsize town about an hour southwest of London. Every two years, the airport here hosts one the largest airshows in the world, the Farnborough International Airshow, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
Farnborough is steeped in aviation history. The American-born aviation pioneer Samuel Cody completed the first powered flight in Britain at the Farnborough airfield in 1904. Queen Elizabeth II visited here in the 1960s to look at early designs for the Concorde, the still first and only supersonic passenger jet to enter scheduled service.
GE has its place in Farnborough’s history, too. The company has been coming to Farnborough since it first opened its gates in 1948, and you could argue that some of its technologies have come close to stealing the show. In 1988, it helped send to the aviation festival one of the strangest aircraft ever to land here: a McDonnell Douglas plane powered by an engine that looked like an inside-out jet engine. The experimental “unducted turbofan” engine, called GE36, combined elements from jet and propeller engines and featured two sets of counter-rotating blades made from a carbon-fiber composite on the outside.
Even though the engine didn’t catch on, its composite blades did. They gave birth to a line of GE Aviation’s high-bypass jet engines, including the GE90, GEnx and the GE9X, now the world’s largest jet engine. The GE90, and the GEnx are on display here this year, as is their cousin, the LEAP engine, developed by CFM International, a 50-50 joint venture between GE Aviation and Safran Aircraft Engines.
The LEAP, which also features 3D-printed parts and components from other advanced materials, is the fastest-selling engine in aviation history. The technologies help make the engine 15 percent more fuel-efficient compared with its predecessor, the CFM56. This is important because fuel costs now represent about 24 percent of airlines’ overall costs. The company has received orders and commitments for 15,450 LEAP engines valued at more than $220 billion at list price.
In fact, 75 percent of all new single-aisle aircraft being delivered today are powered by LEAP engines. As the company continues to ramp up engine production, it will build more than 1,100 LEAP engines this year a rate that is 3 times what it was just one year ago. Although CFM will ramp up production to more than 2,000 LEAP engines per year by 2020, the company says it will take seven years to work through the existing backlog.
One of the aircraft models powered by CFM is Boeing’s new 737 MAX family, which exclusively use LEAP-1B engines. The MAX 8 and MAX 9 variants of the aircraft already carry passengers, and this year the company brought to Farnborough the MAX 7 jet, which will have the longest range of them all — up to 3,850 nautical miles, or 7,130 kilometers. This year, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane operated by Aerolinas Argentinas has started shuttling passengers between Buenos Aires and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, covering the 6,000-kilometer distance in 7 and a half hours.
Boeing is also building a longer variant of the plane, the MAX 10. Robert Michael, senior manager of product marketing for Boeing, said that the plane maker has received orders for 4,600 737 MAX jets from 99 customers.
The LEAP-1A model is one of two options for the Airbus A319neo, A320neo, and A321neo jets, while the LEAP-1C is the exclusive “western” engine for China’s new COMAC C919 airplane. As of July, there were 217 Airbus aircraft and 166 Boeing aircraft powered by LEAP in service.