GE Aviation: A Century of Innovation

A view of the United 777-300ER's GE90 engine while approaching San Francisco (Photo: Alex Navitsky | AirlineGeeks)

GE Aviation is currently one of the top aircraft engine suppliers in the world. This subsidiary of General Electric offers engines for the majority of commercial aircraft and continues to lead innovation within the industry. GE Aviation has a long and rich history that begins over 100 years ago.

The Early 1900s

With the advent of Edison’s light bulb came the demand for electricity. A company called General Electric stepped up to the plate to provide efficient steam turbines that replaced piston engines at power plants. In 1903, GE engineers Charles Curtis and William Emmet built the world’s most powerful steam turbine for a power plant in Rhode Island.

This was a key advance for the company. In the same year, another engineer, Sanford Moss, built a revolutionary gas compressor that uses centrifugal force to squeeze air before it enters a turbine. This compressor was put to use in various applications and laid the groundwork for the jet engine, the same year the Wright Brothers had taken their first flight.

World War I and II

Shortly after this invention, the United States was dragged into World War I. The U.S. Government wanted Moss to use his compressor to better the performance of an aircraft that was used in the war. Moss was successful in adapting his creation to significantly improve the performance of the aircraft, creating what is known as a turbosupercharger. On that day, GE Aviation was born.

GE’s success in significantly improving aircraft performance in World War I resulted in the company receiving a large order to build turbosuperchargers for aircraft in World War II. Moss eventually proposed building one of the first turboprop engines which would continue to revolutionize aviation.

Commercial Aviation

Shortly afterward in 1941, GE Aviation was asked by the government to bring to production one of the first jet engines. A group of engineers called the Hush Hush Boys designed the new engine and on Oct. 1, 1942, the first American jet plane, the Bell XP-59A, took off from California, ushering in the jet age.

GE doubled down on jet engines creating the J33, J35, and J47 jet engines. The J47 later became the most-produced jet engine in history with 35,000 engines manufactured. Further improvements that allowed greater control of pressure inside turbines allowed aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound.

These innovations by GE Aviation were used by engineers in other divisions to create many derivative applications ranging from helicopter engines and power plants to engines for ships.

After many decades of creating engines for military use, GE moved into the commercial aviation market with the CF6-6 high bypass turbofan engine on the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. This spawned many other engine types such as the CF6-50 and CF6-80A. These engines powered a variety of aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and 767.

Fast forward to the early 1990s, GE Aviation develops the GE90 turbofan engine. The latest GE90 engine, the GE90-115B, is considered “the world’s most powerful jet engine.” The GE90 was chosen to power the Boeing 777 aircraft. In addition, GE Aviation also has pioneered engines that fit smaller aircraft such as Bombardier CRJs and Embraer aircraft.

Recently GE has been developing the GE9X, a derivative of the GE90. The GE9X is expected to increase fuel efficiency by 10 percent and power the upcoming Boeing 777X series of aircraft.

For over a century GE Aviation has shown a dedication to being on the bleeding edge of aircraft innovation and the company will continue to push the boundaries of air travel well into the future.

Hemal Gosai

Hemal Gosai

Hemal took his first flight at four years old and has been an avgeek since then. When he isn't working as an analyst he's frequently found outside watching planes fly overhead or flying in them. His favorite plane is the 747-8i which Lufthansa thankfully flies to EWR allowing for some great spotting. He firmly believes that the best way to fly between JFK and BOS is via DFW and is always willing to go for that extra elite qualifying mile.
Hemal Gosai