LONDON – Back in February, AviationSource, through our mini-series with General Electric (GE), got to speak with key members of the Catalyst program, which is a new look into the future of General Aviation engines.
I spoke with David Kimball who is the Catalyst Product Line Leader at GE as well as to Janek Biskupski, who is the Catalyst Systems Engineering Leader about the program itself, via a few questions.
Without further ado, let’s get into it…
JF: Guys, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to me. For the readers that don’t know, give us an overview of the Catalyst program.
DK: The Catalyst program was launched in 2015, since then it has been designed, developed, tested and manufactured by GE Aviation and Avio Aero teams in Czech Rep, Poland, Germany and Italy.
The foundational and differentiating technologies in the Catalyst’s clean-sheet design deliver unprecedented performance and capability for the General Aviation marketspace.
This includes cooled turbine blades, use of high temperature materials, the latest gearbox technologies, additive components, and a commercial grade FADEC which is fully integrated with the aircraft’s propeller control.
These technologies translate into a reduced pilot workload, a step-change in the engine’s efficiency and power compared to the current market.
Our confidence in the product stems from the brilliant minds (about 400 European engineers from the so-called GE Federated Engineering) who have contributed to this program with over 2200hrs of testing completed to date.
The engine’s performance is exceeding our expectations, the fully integrated engine and propeller control is working properly, and the condition of the engine’s hardware, as well, exceeds expectations as we inspect individual parts after various tests.
We have completed nearly all of our development testing – which replicated the regulatory certification requirements – with no major findings.
Now, we are in the process of ramping-up our formal certification test campaign: two engine certification tests were successfully completed this past year, we are in the middle of our icing certification test this month and preparing to begin two more certification tests by April in Czech Rep. Meanwhile, at the Berlin airport, the development engine is preparing for our most exciting milestone yet: first flight.
2021 looks to be a very promising year for the Catalyst!
JF: Which aircraft will be serviced by the Catalyst program?
DK: The Cessna Denali is the launch customer for the Catalyst new engine. GE’s primary focus is to deliver a product that meets all Textron’s expectations and is smoothly introduced into service. In addition to Textron, there is broader interest in the product as we’re in discussions with multiple new potential customers.
JF: What is the demand like for General Aviation and Business Engines, particularly the Catalyst program, over the next 20 years?
DK: The family of GE turboprop engines can cover 550 to 2000shp. We see growth potential in several markets on different aircraft applications and one of the most exciting on the horizon is hybrid-electric.
Additional technology advancements in power storage and distribution, integrated within the Catalyst engine, can deliver a great solution for hybrid applications.
Also, the Catalyst was selected for XTi Trifan 600 hybrid, which is a positive indicator the Catalyst is positioned well for the hybrid emerging markets.
JF: One big thing about this engine program is the utilisation of 3-D printing to create the engine itself. Tell us a little more about that.
JB: GE’s Catalyst is the first turboprop ever with 3D printed components: this is an enabler for fitting in 2-3 more compressor and turbine stages in the same design envelope. Additive technology improves parts count, size, reliability, and weight, and therefore directly drives improved efficiency.
GE Catalyst will be the first turboprop engine in the world certified with several large structural parts made by 3D printing.
The parts were not just converted to additive, but the engine was originally designed for additive, with an architecture built around this revolutionary technology to optimize the size and weight savings.
Again, Europe has been a fertile land to grow additive technology for GE: along with the competencies of European engineers, the additive parts on board the Catalyst were boosted by GE and Avio Aero industrial and laboratory capabilities across Italy (Brindisi and Turin), Poland (Warsaw) and Germany (in Bavaria, for instances, DMLM machines are built by GE Additive).
We have completed both cyclic and ultimate load tests on these large structural parts, both on engine and subassembly level and the material properties exceed the assumptions.
JF: As we know, the engine offers increased range on aircraft that choose the engine. Does this open up more markets in terms of passenger connectivity etc.?
DK: We collaborate with airframers to optimize the engine’s performance based on what the airframer and end-customers value most. Operators may have the option to travel further at constant payload or travel the same distance with less fuel.
Or, maybe customers travel similar distances as today, but inside a cockpit and larger cabin that feels similar to traveling in a jet.
The Catalyst engine is an enabler for how the airframer brings value to the market.
A more fuel-efficient engine not only provides flexibility in the aircraft’s design but will also reduce the operational carbon footprint which is a priority for today’s world.
Coupling this with upcoming more sustainable aviation tech advancements, I believe Catalyst engine is set to drive innovation in its segment long after its entry into service.
Lastly, with more power, operators will also be able to travel faster to their final destination, and we work closely with them to optimize the engine and propeller speed design points to minimize the noise in the cabin throughout the flight envelope.
JF: My final question is how does Catalyst stand out from the others, especially with it being the “first clean-sheet engine in more than 50 years for the Turboprop segment”?
JB: Beyond the evolutionary improvements implemented and the tech-innovation, the Catalyst offers true step change in performances: an industry-best 16:1 pressure ratio and 15-20% emission reduction.
Such results couldn’t be achieved simply by changes in control logic or details, and GE’s Catalyst was designed right with that step change in mind. These innovations – including modern 3D aero including state-of-the-art technologies, 2+3 stage turbines and cooled high-pressure turbine – were fostered within the CleanSky2 framework, the largest European aeronautical research, and innovation program devoted to the decarbonization of the whole sector.
In addition, thanks to variable compressor geometry and state of the art bleed control synchronized by FADEC, the engine offers a significant advantage for high altitude operation.
Last but surely not least, the design and materials leveraged GE’s extensive experiences on large commercial engines to ensure that we enter into service with an engine that is not only class-leading efficient, but also reliable.
JF: Janek and David, thank you so much for speaking to us.
It remains clear that GE is definitely on its way to producing a significant engine in the General Aviation market.
All eyes will now be on GE, especially with the launch of the Cessna Denali to see how it operates for general-use customers in the industry.
When successful, this will no doubt open up new avenues for the manufacturer going forward. But in the mean time, all we can do is sit back and wait.