UK industrial technology group Rolls-Royce announced on Tuesday that it has started manufacturing the world’s largest aeroengine fan blades. These are for its UltraFan demonstrator power plant, which will be unprecedentedly efficient and sustainable.
A full set of UltraFan blades will have a diameter of 140 inches (355.6 cm or 3.566 m). This is only slightly smaller than the diameter of the fuselage of single-aisle (or narrowbody) airliners. (The Boeing 737 has a fuselage width of 3.80 m, while the equivalent figure for the Airbus A320 is 3.95 m.)
“This is the decade of UltraFan and it’s exciting to enter the 2020s with the start of production of the demonstrator engine,” enthused Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace president Chris Cholerton. “We have got all the building blocks in place, the design, the technologies, a brand-new testbed, and now we are actually seeing the engine come together.”
UltraFan’s fan blades and fan case are all made from composite materials. On a twin-engined aircraft, this will reduce total weight by 700 kg. The new engine will also cut fuel burn by 25% in comparison to the first generation of Rolls-Royce’s Trent engine family (which first entered service 25 years ago this month). It will also cut emissions by the same amount.
The new fan blades are made by building up hundreds of layers of carbon-fibre materials, which are pre-filled with resin material. This resin has enhanced toughness. Each blade is then subjected to heat and pressure, and then finished off with a thin titanium leading edge, which provides “extreme protection” (in Rolls-Royce’s words) against erosion, bird strikes and other foreign objects.
The UltraFan includes other innovations as well. It is a geared design, which maximises efficiency in a high-thrust, high-bypass ratio engine. It has a new architecture for its engine core, which provides maximum fuel efficiency and a low emissions level. And it employs advanced ceramic matrix composites (which are heat resistant components which provide more efficient operation in high turbine temperatures).
The new engine will start its ground tests next year. It will be scalable from 25 000 lb (111 205.5 N) thrust to 100 000 lb (about 444 822 N) thrust and should be commercially available in the late 2020s.
The UltraFan technology development programme is also being supported by the UK Aerospace Technology Institute, Innovate UK (Britain’s innovation agency), Germany’s Luftfahrt Forschung aerospace research programme (Rolls-Royce Deutschland employs more than 10 000 people) and the European Union’s Clean Sky 2 initiative.