GE Aviation has successfully tested the world’s first non-static set of light-weight, ceramic matrix composite parts.
The company ran the low-pressure turbine blades in an F414 turbofan demonstrator engine designed to further validate the heat-resistant material for high-stress operation in GE’s next-generation Adaptive Engine Technology Demonstrator program, currently in development with the United States Air Force Research Lab.
The introduction of rotating Ceramic Matrix Composite or CMC components into the hottest and hardest-working sections of jet engines represents a significant technology breakthrough for GE. Prior to the F414 CMC demonstrator, successful CMC applications were limited to static parts, like the high pressure turbine shroud that will be installed on the LEAP engine, currently in development for the Airbus 320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and the COMAC (CHINA) C919 aircraft.
The F414 CMC test endured 500 cycles and validated the unprecedented temperature and durability of the lightweight turbine blades made from heat resistant ceramic matrix composites. The successful tests will lead to expansive deployment of the advanced manufacturing material in GE’s adaptive cycle combat engine and next-gen commercial engines.
Because the rotating turbine blades made from CMCs are one-third the weight of conventional nickel alloys used in the high-stress turbine, they allow GE to reduce the size and weight of the metal disks to which the CMCs system is connected.
Jonathan Blank, general manager of CMC and advanced polymer matrix composite research at GE Aviation said;
Going from nickel alloys to rotating ceramics inside the engine is the really big jump. But this is pure mechanics. The lighter blades generate smaller centrifugal force, which means that you can slim down the disk, bearings and other parts. CMCs allow for a revolutionary change in jet engine design.
GE’s adaptive cycle engine will be much more durable than conventional engines because the CMC’s material temperature capability is hundreds of degrees higher than the nickel-based alloys currently being used on both commercial and military engines.
Since it began developing the technology in the early 90’s, GE Aviation has invested more than $1 billion in CMCs, which are made of silicon carbide ceramic fibres and ceramic resin, manufactured by GE facilities in Delaware and North Carolina through a highly sophisticated process and further enhanced with proprietary coatings.