GE Aviation has unveiled the name for its advanced turboprop engine, which will power the new Cessna Denali: The GE Catalyst.
“The GE Catalyst engine is redefining what a turboprop can do for pilots, airframers and operators in business and general aviation,” said Paul Corkery, general manager for GE Aviation Turboprops. “It acts as a catalyst in an industry segment that has seen very little technology infusion in decades.”
A bit of history
In 2012, GE’s Business and General Aviation Turboprop team set out to validate its original hypothesis: The turboprop market is hungry for an engine with new technology and value, company officials note. They met with airframers and operators to discuss specifications and designs of interest in a next-generation, clean-sheet turboprop in the 1000-1600 SHP range that could create a new class of aircraft.
After gathering feedback from around the world, the GE team confirmed the demand for an advanced engine. GE engineers completed four design iterations and initiated a full preliminary design with the same process GE uses for commercial engines to determine what is feasible to deliver.
During this time frame, Textron issued a request for proposal to power its all-new, clean-sheet-design Cessna Denali. GE submitted an updated design, competing for the bid with other engine makers. In the fall of 2015, Textron selected GE’s design — now the Catalyst engine — to power its single-engine turboprop Denali design.
Since the engine project was unveiled to the public at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Convention in November 2015, GE Aviation has committed more than $400 million in development costs for the GE Catalyst.
GE also finalized an agreement with the Czech government to build its new turboprop headquarters for development, test and engine-production in the Czech Republic.
Just over two years after announcing the engine, engineers ran the GE Catalyst for the first time on Dec. 22, 2017, at the GE Aviation Czech site in Prague. Certification test will take place over the next two years, with entry into service targeted for 2020. By then, the engine will have completed more than 2,000 hours of testing, GE Aviation officials report.
About the engine
According to company officials, the GE Catalyst engine is the first all-new, clean-sheet engine in more than 30 years in the general aviation market. There are currently 98 patented technologies on the engine. It also utilizes proven technologies from GE’s larger engines with billions of hours of service, officials said.
It is first turboprop engine in its class to introduce two stages of variable stator vanes and cooled high-pressure turbine blades, according to company officials. It performs at a 16:1 overall pressure ratio, enabling the engine to achieve as much as 20% lower fuel burn and 10% higher cruise power compared to competitor offerings in the same size class, company officials boast. At 4,000 hours, the GE Catalyst offers 33% more time between overhaul than its leading competitor, officials add.
GE has incorporated new manufacturing techniques like 3D printing to enable more advanced component designs and reduced part counts, company officials said. A total of 855 conventionally manufactured parts has been reduced to 12 additive parts. This reduction in complexity speeds production, reduces fuel burn and weight, and increases durability with fewer seams and tighter tolerances, officials said. Additive components reduce the engine’s weight by 5% while contributing a 1% improvement in specific fuel consumption (SFC).
GE also is introducing the first Full Authority Digital Engine and Propeller Control (FADEPC) for the GA turboprop market. Officials said that GE Aviation developed a single-lever control that offers a “jet-like experience” to reduce pilot workload and maximize performance without exceeding the engine’s limitations.
The FADEPC includes an automatic auto-start function and enhanced integrated functions.
“You are essentially allowing the pilot to focus on higher-level tasks,” Corkery said. “The system can make flying as simple as pushing a lever and pilots love it. They have more time to fly the plane, look out of the window and take in the experience, instead of monitoring and adjusting the engine all the time.”
“The simplified cockpit alone is going to be a catalyst for change in the way airplanes can be thought up in the future,” said Brad Mottier, president and general manager of GE Aviation’s BGA and Integrated Systems organization.
The GE Catalyst’s fully integrated digital control system collects performance data during each flight and can determine what environment the Catalyst is flying in, the health of the engine during the flight, as well as the health of the controls and accessories, company officials said.
The cloud-based data is transmitted and collected to create a virtual simulation — or a “digital twin” — of every Catalyst engine that enters service. With this data, operators can add weather, flight and fleet data to compare actual versus expected performance of the engine. GE Aviation can send alerts specific to engine serial numbers.
“Our insights tell us that airplanes need different times between overhauls depending on their operating environment,” Corkery said. “For instance, an airplane flying in a desert environment versus a more benign environment would require different intervals between overhaul. The digital twin-enabled service offering will help lower the ownership costs.”