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GE Aviation Completes Catalyst First Flight

GE Aviation made the first flight with its new Fadec-equipped Catalyst turboprop engine this afternoon in Berlin. Announced customers for the 1,300-shp-class engine include Textron Aviation, for its new Beechcraft Denali turboprop single, and XTI, which plans to use it as part of its hybrid powerplant for the TriFan 600 VTOL aircraft.

The 107-minute local flight, performed with GE’s Beechcraft King Air 350 testbed aircraft, was “flawless” according to Paul Corkery, GE general manager for turboprop engine programs. “We’re thrilled with the results," he said. "The engine ran great. We really feel comfortable with it.” According to data from FlightAware, the aircraft reached an altitude of 10,275 feet and a speed of 226 knots.

Announced in 2015, the Catalyst is designed to fill power needs in the 850- to 1,600-shp range. It is the first turboprop made with 3D printed components and features a 16:1 overall pressure ratio. Corkery said more flight testing will be required before Textron Aviation can fly the engine on the Denali, but he intimated that could be soon.

“We have to run 20 tests to clear safety of flight on Denali and we have just started the 20th one. We have to run more points for them and go through a different set of flight envelopes to clear them. But this is our last of 20 different tests for them,” he said. Other recent tests concluded on the engine include initial maintenance inspection (IMI) after 500 thirty-minute simulated flights in a test cell.

If all goes according to plan, Corkery said, GE would likely gain FAA certification for the engine by the end of 2022. “We’re about a third done with our certification testing” and certification documentation submission, he said. That includes 2,000-cycle IMI testing as well as vibration, over-temperature, and ice crystal tests. Corkery said he expects the certification campaign to go smoothly due to the extensive development testing already completed on the engine, adding that “we feel comfortable that we will have a minimal amount of issues.” To date, 16 test engines have completed 2,600 hours of ground testing.

Targets for the engine include at least a 20 percent reduction in specific fuel consumption compared with existing powerplants in class, operating simplicity via single-lever power control, and hotter combustion to reduce both CO2 and NOx emissions. Corkery said the engine employs technology gleaned from GE’s larger-engine programs, such as variable-geometry compressors that deliver a better power lapse rate. “As you increase altitude, you hold the power better. We run hotter and have cool turbine blades,” he said, noting that GE plans to fly the engine on the testbed for up to another 150 hours.

While the engine will have some life-limited parts, Corkery said that he expects service requirements for most of the engine will be “on-condition” as opposed to fixed time between overhaul intervals. “The fadec enables that," he commented. "We’re collecting a lot of data at a high acquisition rate. We have very good data to support that using the ‘digital twin’ of the engine that we have developed.”

While Corkery said GE is “laser-focused” on delivering the engine to Beechcraft, he noted that the company is considering its application to other aircraft such as in the case of XTI, which would use it as a power generator in a hybrid powerplant solution. “Of course, we looked at the broader landscape," he said. "It is expensive to do a new centerline development from start to finish, especially with fadec in this market.

"Hybrid is particularly interesting. This is a 1,300-shp engine. If you take the prop off and attach a permanent magnet generator, it’s a one-megawatt solution, a really nice foundation for a hybrid solution. It’s another area we’re looking at.” Corkery said GE is also looking at applications for the new engine in UAVs as well.

With an eye to sustainability, Corkery said GE will also begin running Catalyst in its test cells next year using a blend of 50 percent sustainable aviation fuel and “move up" from there.

"We feel that is low risk for us," he added. "We see SAF as a big trend.”

GE is gearing up for serial production of the new engine at its Global Center of Excellence for Turboprops in Prague where the company’s H series turboprop engines are manufactured. For Catalyst, GE added four additional test cells, including two prop test cells and two dyno test cells, as well as the flying test bed. “We’ve invested a lot in the machining capability there and we can hit the run rates of our customers,” he said.

S: AIN Online

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