What makes the GTF engine great
The engine has brought greater efficiency and reduced emissions. In a conventional jet engine, there’s a fan in the front and a turbine in the back, and they move at the same speed. The trouble is that, for maximum efficiency, the fan in the front wants to turn slower than the turbine, which wants to turn quickly.
The GTF engine, by way of a gear system in between the two, makes it possible for the fan and the turbine to spin at their optimal speeds.
But that’s the technical stuff. More on that later. This is a story best told through a scene that played out on a sunny spring day in May 2016.
Teams of Pratt & Whitney employees boarded buses and headed to Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, to catch the flight of an Airbus A320neo en route to the airframer’s home base in Toulouse, France. Others watched with their teams back at Pratt & Whitney’s East Hartford site.
The GTF engine that had been at the center of their professional lives was about to make a trans-Atlantic flight – the kind of voyage once reserved for larger aircraft that burned up to 20 percent more fuel. On this day, Airbus did a flyover in Connecticut and West Palm Beach, Florida, to salute the P&W employees who helped make the feat possible.
Those engineers, manufacturing operators and support teams watching on the ground in 2016 believed in the engine, but, like Bellows, had to see it for themselves.
"So we go outside the plant that day in great anticipation. We all see it approaching, coming in lower, and it flies over our heads - and it was beautiful. But … so quiet. We weren’t used to an engine that quiet."
- Ben Bellows
His colleague, Frank Preli, said his thoughts were elsewhere – specifically, onboard the aircraft.
“If you fly on a plane with the GTF, you actually do hear noise,” said Preli, Pratt & Whitney vice president of Propulsion and Materials Technologies. “The hydraulics; not the engine. That’s not something an air traveler ordinarily hears. So passengers get the benefit of a much more comfortable ride. We can fly in to destinations otherwise not available because of reduced noise, while we are saving fuel and lowering emissions.”
Four years, 1.6 million flights and 245 million passengers later, many more destinations abound for what industry experts call a disruptive technology.
“The textbook meaning of ‘disruptive technology’ is anything that redefines the market,” said Michael Winter, Pratt & Whitney senior fellow for Advanced Technology. “And this has been completely disruptive to the marketplace as it introduced the idea of putting new engines on successful aircraft.”
Before the GTF, Pratt & Whitney was looking to build engines airlines would need for the next 30 to 50 years. Design and build took 10 years, combining the need for airlines to reduce the operating cost of each flight through better fuel efficiency, while also solving for the then-nascent awareness of climate change.
“There was an unmistakable buzz around the GTF engine program,” said Bellows, who is now senior director of Mechanical Systems, Externals, and Nacelles Engineering.
In addition to 40 industry-leading innovations, what was accomplished with the GTF’s introduction? Exactly what P&W promised.