LONDON – Today in Aviation marks 25 years since the General Electric (GE) GE90, which powers the Boeing 777, entered service and changed the way aircraft were powered.
November 17, 1995, saw the first engines run on a British Airways (BA) flight between London Heathrow (LHR) and Dubai (DXB). GE was keen to note that the engine has been the most reliable in the industry with “a world-class dispatch reliability rate of 99.97%.”
Such an anniversary comes in good stead for this year, as the manufacturer surpassed 100 million flying hours on the engine back in July.
GE90 Will Remain a Factor for the Future
Commenting on the anniversary was Mike Kauffman, GE Aviation’s GE90 program who expressed pride over the engine’s successes and is hopeful for the future.
“We are excited to celebrate another GE90 milestone and would like to congratulate everyone involved in the engine’s success. We continue to deliver these extremely reliable engines and our dedicated product support team will maintain the GE90 for many years to come, providing maximum value throughout its lifecycle.”
The last 25 years has seen the manufacturer deliver a total of more than 2,800 GE90-94Bs and upgraded -115B engines to 70 airlines around the world.
The Important Presence of the GE90
The GE90 currently powers all family of Boeing 777 aircraft from the 777-200LR to the 777-300ER and 777-F variants.
General Electric’s work doesn’t stop there however. The GE90 has built the foundations for the GE9X, which will be used specifically to power the upcoming 777X aircraft that Boeing aims to get onto the market over the next few years.
The GE9X will go beyond the GE90’s world record for the most powerful jet engine as it will provide 134,300 pounds of thrust, which is more than the GE90 at 127,900 pounds. It shows, therefore, that General Electric has definitely thought about the successes of the GE90 and how it will prove successful on the 777X too.
The launch of the GE90 represented a significant array of things at that time, back in 1995. At the time, it was GE’s first new baseline engine for large commercial aircraft in more than two decades, and is the world’s most powerful engine.
It was also the world’s largest aircraft engine, offering a diameter of 123 inches meaning that you could fit the fuselage of a Boeing 727 into the engine with no problems.
On top of this, the GE90 was the first successful example of composite fan blades for a commercial turbofan engine, which is what we see nowadays.
It Wasn’t All Sunshine and Rainbows…
In the 1990s, when the engine was first announced, GE was stuck at the bottom against the likes of Rolls Royce as well as Pratt & Whitney to service the Boeing 777. Despite the technological advancements listed, the GE90 program faced a lot of technical and financial setbacks, with many airlines viewing the engine as too expensive.
In 1998, a US$275m tax write-off was given to the corporate team of GE after cancelling an upgrade development program for the engine which would make the engine capable of 102,000 pounds of thrust. At that time, the media went on the attack against GE, especially due to the unit cost of the engine.
The Magic of McNerney
1997 was the magic year for GE when Jim McNerney entered the position of President at GE, spearheading one of the most significant turnaround strategies seen in the engine industry. A year later McNerney and GE leaders traveled the world to acquire some level of enthusiasm for a new version of the GE90, which offered a more capable compressor.
Air France was one of the many customers who wanted a longer-range 777, meaning that GE responded with a 115,000 pound thrust-powered version of the engine.
Boeing did agree to support a larger GE90 if a sole-source engine deal on the 777 could be reached. This was good news and was the beginning of the fightback from GE against the media claims of the program being “dead”. By 1999, the shock news of GE being selected for the 777 engines came through and shocked the world.
Jack Welch, the Chairman and CEO of General Electric at the time showed sheer anxiousness over this engine, of which was dubbed as a “big bet” on success. “The GE90 is the most money I’ve ever spent on a new product, so let’s hope it all works out,” he said.
The Media Were Wrong…
In the end, the engine was a success, with Boeing managing to capture the niche market of the 777 and securing 500 orders for the aircraft.
As McNerney emphasized, the engine was what was needed to progress the industry further and further into the skies. “The GE90-115B is a culmination of our original strategy to build a new centerline engine. It hits the sweet spot”.
The success then continued, with Boeing having to double its original forecasting, and by 2000, Japan Airlines (JL) ordered and became the launch customer for the Boeing 777-300ER. And from there, came hundreds of orders for the aircraft, with Welch being glad that he made the right decision to invest big to win big.
“I felt vindicated that I had made the right choice in the size and configuration of the engine. Good airplanes grow, and they require good engines to grow with them,” wrote retired GE Aviation executive Brian Rowe in his autobiography.
An Overall Success Story
It is definitely clear that the GE90 has formed a fundamental part of the aviation industry, predominantly in the long-haul market where global destinations that weren’t once connected before are now a part of every-day lives.
The success of the GE90 also stems on the enthusiast’s side as well, hearing its distinct and beautiful groan as it spools up on pushback. General Electric has therefore done one hell of a sterling job on an engine that will remain in the history books for quite some time.
What we can wait for in the meantime, is the launch of the Boeing 777X and the GE9X that comes with it, to see what other history-making records can be broken.
Featured Image: A picture of the GE90 engine from General Electric. Photo Credit: General Electric