What Exactly Is the LEAP Engine?

General Electric (GE) is well-known for its advancements in lighting and household kitchen appliances like ovens and refrigerators. But it’s also a major player in the aviation industry as well. Every year, GE invests $1 billion in the research and development of commercial jet engines. Recently, as a result of their resources and determination, a new kind of jet engine was created: the LEAP engine.

The LEAP Jet Engine Is Born

Through CFM, a joint venture owned by GE and Safran Aircraft Engines, the idea to build a jet engine with unprecedented fuel efficiency came to light. The Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion, or LEAP engine, was launched in 2008 as a replacement to the company’s CFM56 engine. CFM’s hope was to make an engine that was quiet and fuel-efficient, with lower emissions. It also needed to be a cost-effective option like its predecessor was.  CFM has begun lowering its production rates for the CFM56, hoping to replace it completely with the LEAP engines by 2020.

GE completed the first test flight of the new engine in 2014. It was mounted to a Boeing 747 aircraft, which is still considered by some to be the fastest commercial jet in the airways. Aside from Boeing, Airbus and COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China) also volunteered aircraft to allow the LEAP to continue its test flights. In total, 60 engines were tested – 28 by CFM, and 32 by the three other aircraft companies.

After enduring rigorous testing, all three LEAP engines – the LEAP-1A, LEAP-1B, and LEAP-1C – have all been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Aircraft That Will Use the LEAP Engine

The LEAP engine was not designed with any particular aircraft in mind, but the three companies that tested it have decided to have some of their most popular planes outfitted with these engines. The aircraft used includes:

  • Boeing’s 737 single-aisle plane, which was fitted with the LEAP-1B engine.
  • Airbus’s A320neo plane, which was fitted with the LEAP-1A engine.
  • COMAC’s C919 plane, which was fitted with the LEAP-1C engine.

Refitting existing planes with new engines is a cost-effective approach for Boeing and Airbus especially. The companies had previously considered completely remodeling their two most popular (and rivaling) planes, the 737 and the A320neo. Instead, they will keep the body styles, since they’re already so well-liked, and add newer, fuel-efficient engines, which should only increase their popularity with airlines.

In fact, Boeing is already seeing their plan succeed: both Southwest and American Airlines plan to order the 737s with these new engines to add to their fleet. In August, Air Lease Corporation finalized a deal to obtain 12 new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, all with LEAP engines. This order alone is valued at $348 million.

By the end of 2017, CFM plans to have produced 500 LEAP engines. In order to keep up with demand, the project will produce 1,200 in 2018, 1,900 in 2019, and 2,100 in 2020.

What the LEAP Engine Promises

Aircraft corporations and airlines are working towards producing and flying planes that are quieter, cleaner, and more efficient. The high cost of fuel and the environmental problems that come with older planes are some of the biggest issues aircraft carriers face.

CFM strives to alleviate these concerns with the LEAP. Already, the company has outfitted 85 planes on 4 different continents that have logged over 100,000 cycles. The new engine does not disappoint – it continues to operate with the highest thrust utilization rate and meets its goal of improving fuel efficiency by 15%. Additionally, the jet engine has reduced CO2 emissions by 15% and has also successfully lowered NOx emissions and noise levels.

The Design

The LEAP engine’s fan blades are composed of 3D woven resin transfer molding (RTM) carbon fiber composite. This brand-new technology promises blades that are both incredibly lightweight and strong. In fact, the composite material is so strong that each individual blade could support the weight of a large, wide-bodied plane.

This “lightweight but strong” concept is carried into the manufacturing of the engine itself. The fuel nozzles, though five times stronger than those on other engines, are 25% lighter than their traditional counterparts.

On top of innovative design, the LEAP engine is backed by CFM’s impressive reputation, earned largely by its CFM56 engine. Many aircraft relied on this engine because it was relatively affordable and required little maintenance. CFM promises the LEAP will be a cost-effective alternative to the CFM56 that will also need little upkeep to perform as expected. The engine has a durable ejection process that keeps dirt and debris from getting to the engine’s core, making it seem brand new long after it’s been in service.

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