From GPS to the Internet, many everyday technologies have military roots. The same is true for jet engines, especially those powering business jets.
In the United States, the jet age began the night of October 4th, 1941, with the arrival from England of a top-secret engine at a barren airport in Boston’s Back Bay. It was Sir Frank Whittle’s turbojet. Rebuilt by General Electric on the same grounds that now produce T700 engines for the US Army’s Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, the IA engine was the first jet engine flown for the Allies during World War II.
Through the Korean and Vietnam Wars, GE Aviation began its practice of transferring military technologies to improve civilian air travel. In the 1960s, GE used the design of its supersonic J85 engine to help Bill Lear – a self-taught radio engineer – launch the business jet market.
Roughly 50 years later – on April 29, 2016, to be exact – GE Aviation’s engineers have successfully certified a new engine primed to reshape the business jet market once again. They shrunk the core of the new LEAP engine developed for next-gen passenger jets to help business jet travelers fly farther and faster with lower-than-ever emissions and fuel consumption. Called Passport, the jet engine will power Bombardier’s latest Global 7000 and Global 8000 business jets beginning in 2018.
“Passport is like a scaled version of the LEAP core,” said Shawn Warren, general manager of the Passport program. “They are very similar, which is great for both programs because we not only shared the differentiating technologies for cost savings, but we also shared lessons learned as both programs successfully progressed through certification testing.”
Bombardier estimates that the business jet fleet will increase by 22,000 planes by 2033. The company pegged the revenue opportunity at $617 billion over the same period.
“The Global 7000 and Global 8000 aircraft are segment-defining jets designed with an uncompromising and innovative approach to comfort and performance,” said David Coleal, President of Bombardier Business Aircraft’s Global 7000 and Global 8000 aircraft program. “GE has designed and certified an engine that matches this innovative philosophy. We congratulate their team on this critical milestone.”
The LEAP was developed by CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture between GE Aviation and France’s Safran (Snecma). With a running tally of 10,000+ orders, the LEAP is the bestselling engine in GE Aviation’s history.
Like Bill Lear’s first jet engine, the Passport and LEAP engines have Air Force pedigree. Their beating hearts, or so-called “cores” comprised of the compressor, combustor, and high-pressure turbine, evolved from the F101 engine, which first powered the B-1 bomber in the mid-1970s. The engines are infused with new technologies like ceramic matrix composites and 3D-aerodynamic compressors developed through GE’s new engine design program called eCore.
Both engines completed thousands of grueling certification test hours, but none more majestic than flight-testing. The LEAP took off for the first time on October 9, 2014, on GE’s historic 747-100 flying test bed. Crews at GE Aviation’s flight test facility in the Mojave Desert then rebuilt the aircraft’s wing to install the Passport engine.
Although Passport FAA certification is a done deal, testing will continue to mature the engine, with plans to accumulate 4000 hours and 8000 cycles (the equivalent of 10 years of operation on a Global 7000) prior to service entry. Today, Passport has amassed more than 2400 hours and 2800 cycles in ground and flight testing.