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A Catalyst Carol: The GE Catalyst Takes Another Crucial Step Ahead of Flight Testing

February 02, 2021 | by Yari Bovalino
Engineers and technicians are celebrating after achieving another important advancement for GE’s Catalyst engine program. And no where was the celebrating louder than in Europe where the engine is tested, designed and built.

On December 18 at the Berlin airport, the new Catalyst  was installed on wing on the Beechcraft King Air test aircraft and lit for the first time on the runway. This milestone paves the way for 2021 ground testing, marking an exciting new phase in the engine program.

“The engine started flawlessly on the first attempt”, says David Kimball, Catalyst Product Line Leader. “It reached ground idle in a stable and predictable manner without any intervention, and the fully integrated enging and prop control system worked seamlessly. This not only demonstrates progress within the program, but also showcases the versatility of this engine; the Catalyst can be installed in a wide spectrum of aircraft applications with vastly different technical architectures.”

In a Christmas-time coincidence, it was two years ago in December 2018 when the roar of the engine rang out for the first time in the test cell at GE Aviation’s Czech plant in Prague. Dozens of Czech, Italian, German, Polish, Spanish and French aerospace professionals had their eyes glued to the screens of the control room, where the Catalyst engine — designed and developed from a clean sheet only a few years earlier — was fired up for the first time.

In the last three years, the combined operations of all types on 13 assembled engines and their components have well exceeded 2,000 hours. From altitude chamber tests (in which the Catalyst set the record for its category hitting 41,000 ft), to icing, fatigue, vibration and ingestion tests, event up to digital simulation tests for the FADEPC (Full Authority Digital Engine and Propeller Controls) in the cutting edge Wet Rig at Avio Aero Brindisi, the Catalyst is being put through the paces.

The European flight test engineering team stands in front of the flight test bed.

And the revolutionary Catalyst is demonstrating what its new technologies are capable of, from the first turboprop with 3D printed parts, an industry-best 16:1 overall pressure ratio to the achievement of higher-than-average cruises in the same class, along with a 15% reduction in fuel consumption, 15% lower CO2 emissions and up to 24% less NOx emissions.

Today, the team is continuing with the ground test campaign.

“Nest steps are to clear the engine for aircraft taxiing,” says Jiri Pecinka, a GE Aviation Staff Test Engineer.  “We’ll accomplish this by running various power management scenarios to verify the engine’s performance, operability, and responsiveness to the FADEPC enabled pilot inputs from a customed cockpit.  During the ground taxi campaign, we’ll also validate the engine’s installation effects which is critical as we prepare for first flight. Overall, our objective is to assure the Catalyst is ready to fly.”

Catalyst is a more eco-friendly turboprop engine, benefitting from the largest research and development program for sustainable aviation through the MAESTRO project. And contributions from GE’s specialized centers, including the Aviation Advanced Technology of Munich, the Engineering Design Center of Warsaw and the dedicated teams of Italian engineers at Avio Aero, along with support from the collaboration network with universities and institutes, has pushed the Catalyst program new engineering and technical heights.

Just 10 days before the start of ground testing, the Prague-based European team used test cells  – located at Prague’s Czech Technical University, CVUT to successfully complete another crucial testing on the so-called Core2 engine.

The King Air flight test bed with the Catalyst installed on wing, inside the BBA hangar at Berlin Airport.

“In short, we basically transformed a turboprop in a turbojet to run these tests,” says Stefano Renna, Catalyst Model Engineer Leader at GE, “focusing on the core components and applying over 800 sensors all around them, even onto the rotating ones. This huge and delicate instrumentation work took a couple of years for our team to accomplish.”

Such complex testing activity has been possible thanks to cooperation with Prague University. “I am personally amazed by the work done with GE” said the dean of CVUT, Michael Valášek. “The design of engine installation on wing generated enormous amounts learnings for the talented students we’ve selected to join the opportunity within aviation, and our team’s looking forward to the upcoming in-flight experiments. We’ll harness that experience for the work we’re doing to develop a model for preventive maintenance of modern turboprop engines, like GE’s Catalyst.”

The partnership between CVUT and GE Aviation Czech is further making the Czech Republic an attractive destination for high-end research and development activities for young Europeans interested in aeronautics. “We receive great support from the GE Aviation team, it helps us develop the right expertise at the university, enabling us to grow the next generation of engineers and leaders that will likely develop the next generation of aircraft engines,” Valášek said.

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GE Aerospace is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, as well as integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.