The world’s most “printed engine,” GE’s new Advanced Turboprop in which additive manufacturing replaces 855 normally made parts with just 12 “printed” components, is on track to run for the first time at the end of this year in Prague, Czech Republic. It will power Cessna’s new Denali aircraft.

The ATP, which GE has designed to offer up to 20% better fuel burn and 10% more power than an equivalent-sized 800 shp to 1,650 shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6, looks as though it will exceed initial performance specifications, says Brad Mottier, vice president and general manager of GE Aviation’s Business and General Aviation & Integrated Systems operation. GE has committed more than $400 million in development costs, as well as investing more than $1 billion on developing its additive manufacturing capabilities.

In an industry first for an engine this size, the ATP will feature a single-lever FADEC that will manage fuel flow, propeller pitch and speed as well as bleed valves and variable stators within the engine. The result? Jet-like operability for the pilot, with a single “throttle” lever and built-in limit protections that will greatly reduce cockpit workload.

That new level of systems automation could act as a catalyst for the industry to jump to a new level of advanced aircraft featuring more “intelligence” and software-controlled systems, says Mottier. The Denali is the first.

“It’s going to be a catalyst for change,” he explains. “We’ve spent a lot of time flying, both in simulators and airplanes, the competitor’s engine and competitors’ aircraft. We mapped and characterized every control movement from a human factors standpoint, tying it back into the operating handbook, not only for standard operations but also for emergency procedures. Based on that, we have spent a lot of time automating, and therefore eliminating, a lot of the presently required cockpit pilot control interventions.

“We’ve done this in conjunction with Textron, so this is going to result in a significantly simplified cockpit. That’s why that alone is going to be a motive force, a catalyst, for change in the way airplanes can be thought of and simplified in the future, instead of just how fast and how far.”

A Digital Twin

GE is bringing its latest airline engine technology and tapping the resources of the GE Global Research Centers to create a “digital twin” of every Advanced Turboprop (ATP) that enters service.

The “digital twin” will be serial-number specific, and will be fed all the operating data of each engine as it happens, from performance parameters to operating environment. While software will monitor each engine, big data from the worldwide fleet will also be applied to predict future health of the engine. Monitoring could also include self-analysis of line replaceable units (LRUs) and even sensors, such as temperature measuring devices, to prevent unnecessary maintenance actions triggered by a faulty gauge.

“We have been piggybacking on what we’re doing on our big commercial engines,” says Mottier, “to ensure high utilization availability. If there’s an issue that needs to be addressed before it occurs we can pre-position to resolve it, so the customer has not lost any utilization,” he says.

It sounds expensive to develop, but Mottier says he didn’t have to pay for the algorithms already developed in other parts of GE. The result? A pay-by-the-hour engine maintenance program that will be “extremely competitive” to that for the rival PT6 engine.

“It’s going to be quite revolutionary to bring this type of sophistication into general aviation,” Mottier says.