ARCHIVED - NRC Gives Aerospace Client Much Needed Chills

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June 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

A warm winter in Peebles, Ohio created a dilemma for GE Aviation last year. The manufacturer of jet engines needed to complete icing certification tests on its new GEnx — a 75,000 lb thrust engine that the company is developing for Boeing's revolutionary new 787 Dreamliner.

The tests, which required temperatures as low as -20°C, had to be done outdoors due to the engine's massive size. But temperatures at GE's engine testing facility in Ohio didn't get cold enough to create the icy conditions needed for the test.

The company approached NRC Aerospace, which had two things in abundance — cold Canadian air and icing expertise. Within five months, NRC Aerospace and GE Aviation had built a new facility for icing certification tests on large engines at Montréal's Mirabel International Airport. The facility was built in partnership with Aéroports de Montréal.

NRC's new icing facility in Mirabel
NRC's new icing facility in Mirabel

"They needed help to do this and, having worked with us in the past, they understood that we have a lot of experience with icing as well as good credibility with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)," says NRC Aerospace engine testing expert Jim MacLeod. "They know we can make these projects work."

In February, the GEnx engine arrived at Mirabel to undergo six weeks of testing that ended in late March. "We are absolutely thrilled to have done this at Mirabel, and to have had the expertise of the NRC scientists and engineers," says Daniel Verreault, GE's Country Manager for Canada.

Test of the GEnx engine underway at Mirabel
Test of the GEnx engine underway at Mirabel

The GEnx engine is designed to be more environmentally friendly than previous engines with a significant reduction in noise, fuel consumption and emissions. It will be used on aircraft such as Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which will carry between 210 and 330 passengers and is designed to replace the workhorses of today's planes, such as the Boeing 767. "The GEnx engine is very important to GE aviation's future," says Verreault.

Ready for the big time

NRC's new facility at Mirabel is an outdoor wind tunnel with seven 2.4-metre diameter fans that can push air over an engine at 3,000 lbs per second. It is 23 metres long and can handle engines up to 85,000 lbs of thrust — more than enough to accommodate the GEnx.

To simulate flying in icing conditions, the spray mast inside the tunnel discharges very small heated water droplets, which quickly cool and freeze on impact at the engine inlet.

As global temperatures increase and weather becomes less predictable, companies such as GE are less able to count on the cold weather they need to meet FAA requirements for testing their larger engines. "It becomes a significant risk to the program," says Verreault. "Are you going to get cold weather to be able to certify your engine by the time you promised it to your customer?"

Such tests must be done outside because of the size of the engines and the power consumption that would be needed to cool a large indoor facility. Facilities like the one at Mirabel give companies a way to meet their business needs, while NRC Aerospace can use the advanced facility to further critical research on behalf of the aerospace sector.

"The GEnx certification program was all completed at Mirabel. It would not have happened without the terrific support of NRC."

Daniel Verreault, Country Manager for Canada for GE Aviation

"It's a win-win situation for us in industry, and for the researchers at NRC who are the leaders in the world in terms of understanding icing conditions," says Verreault.

GE plans to return to Mirabel next winter to test a smaller version of the engine for the 747-8 aircraft. As the demand for such tests grows, icing facilities in even more northern climates may be required to provide a longer season for engine tests.

The new facility at Mirabel builds on NRC's existing icing expertise and positions it to better meet the needs of a growing aerospace industry. "We're in the right place, at the right time, with the right people," says Bob Hastings, Director of the Gas Turbine Lab at NRC Aerospace. "Between our own facilities in Ottawa for smaller engines, and the new Mirabel facility, we could become the icing certification centre of excellence for the world."


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National Research Council of Canada
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