By Matt Jancer
Whoever said size isn’t everything never had to push a giant airplane across the sky. That’s why GE’s new turbofan engine is enormous: Built using lightweight carbon fiber and 3-D printing, the GE9X is as wide as a Boeing 737 fuselage (yes, it’s a plane engine the size of another plane) and will eventually power Boeing’s 777X, the biggest twinjet ever. Despite its heft, though, the behemoth is cleaner, quieter, and more fuel-efficient than its predecessors. Flight-testing starts this year, and by 2020 you might see a GE9X from seat 36A.
1. Sculpted Fan Blades
Improved 3-D-design software enabled engineers to create more-aerodynamic blades. These are made of carbon fiber, not titanium, substantially lessening the load on the engine.
2. High-Pressure Air Compressor
The more densely packed the air is, the less fuel required in the combustion chamber. A 27:1 compression ratio makes the GE9X burn fuel 10 percent more efficiently than the current 777 engine, saving money and lowering emissions.
3. Supercharged Swirlers
Air flows to the combustor through two swirlers, which are like high-speed blenders mixing fuel and air. Traditional metal alloy would be no match for the GE9X, so a ceramic-composite lining was used to let the engine withstand up to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. One-Piece Nozzle
A typical fuel nozzle has 20 parts. Each GE9X nozzle is a single piece, 3-D-printed out of cobalt-chrome powder. Similar nozzles have proven to be five times more durable.
5. 3-D-Printed Airfoils
The GE9X generates 105,000 pounds of thrust, which would overwhelm conventional nickel airfoils. These versions are 3-D-printed from titanium-aluminide metal powder, which is lighter, stronger, and more heat-resistant.
This article appears in the June issue. Subscribe now.