GE Aviation Moving To Apply Ceramic Matrix Composites to the Heart of Future Engines

GE introduces durable, lightweight composite components into the "hot section" of a flying jet engine.


EVENDALE, OHIO -- The GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team's F136 development engine for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) contains third-stage, low-pressure turbine vanes made by GE from ceramic matrix composites (CMC). This could lead to the first commercial use of CMCs in a jet engine's hot section (combustor and turbine areas) when a F136-powered JSF begins flight testing in 2010.

CMC development is a key initiative at GE Aviation, and an enabling technology in several of GE's private and government-funded engine demonstrator programs now underway. Also, CMC components are a key feature of GE's eCore program, the cornerstone for the company's next-generation of jet engines for narrow-body, regional, and business jets.

CMCs are made of silicon carbide ceramic fibers and ceramic resin, manufactured through a highly sophisticated process, and further enhanced with proprietary coatings.

GE Aviation and GE's Corporate Research Center have pursued CMC technology for more than 15 years. Several years ago, GE Aviation ran a government demonstrator engine with a combustor liner and low-pressure turbine blades. GE Aviation produces CMC at its facility in Newark, DE.

"Developing new jet engine materials takes many years of investment and commitment," says Robert Schafrik, GE Aviation's general manager of materials and process engineering. "But the benefits can provide a considerable competitive advantage. CMCs are a new frontier that will raise the bar in jet engine performance."

Schafrik sees a day when CMC components will populate many areas in the engine's hot section, including high- and low-pressure turbine vanes and blades, turbine shrouds, and combustor liners. For example, CFM International, a 50/50 joint company of Snecma (Safran Group) and GE, will run a Leap-X demonstrator engine in 2010 with CMC components as CFM pursues technologies for next-generation engines for narrowbody aircraft. Also, CMC combustor liners are under consideration for future GEnx production models.

"Over the next 15 years, jet propulsion advances at GE could help to lay the groundwork for a broader use of CMCs across several industrial sectors," says Roger Doughty, manager of CMC Design and Technology at GE Aviation.

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