GE Aviation is investing heavily in new technologies for its future engines, in particular ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) and processes such as resin transfer molding (RTM) pioneered by Snecma. This technology will be first used in the Leap engine for the Airbus A320NEO and Boeing 737 MAX.

The temperature tolerance of CMCs means significantly less engine air for cooling, and their light weight helps the engine weigh less. RTM, used for the first time in fan blades on the Leap, and for the front cowl and containment structure, produces significantly lighter components than those made from metals.

A large part of GE’s effort is spent on validating the technologies and finding ways to manufacture them consistently and in volume.

“Some of our manufacturing technology is pretty revolutionary,” says David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation. “For example, we are the only ones in the world to make titanium-aluminum spin-cast blades for low- pressure turbines, and we’re still the only ones with composite fan blades, in the GE90 and GEnx.”

Following the design freeze for the Leap in June, CMCs will be incorporated into the shrouds in the turbine. But rotating parts made of CMCs will not be technologically mature for another couple of years, says Joyce.

Joyce notes that GE and Snecma (partners in CFM International) started working on the technologies for Leap with the CFM Tech 56 in 1998. “I can’t tell you how many billions of dollars have gone into Leap since that program began,” he says.

The first full Leap engine will run for the first time in mid-2013, with a certification goal of 2016. It is the exclusive engine on the Boeing 737 MAX and the only Western engine on the Chinese C919, and Joyce expects it to win about 50% of the Airbus A320NEO engine orders, where it competes with Pratt & Whitney’s PW1100G geared turbofan. Orders and commitments now stand at more than 3,600.