AVRIEUX, France (Reuters) – French engine maker Safran said on Friday it had begun wind-tunnel tests for its “RISE” technology project, a radical jet engine design for the next generation of medium-haul jets.
Safran and its partner GE Aerospace are testing the building blocks for an open-bladed jet engine able to reduce fuel use and emissions by 20% from the middle of next decade.
Positioned as a possible successor to the “LEAP” model used on the Boeing 737 MAX and about half of competing Airbus A320neo jets, “RISE” features visible fan blades and would be twice the diameter of today’s comparable models in a quest for efficiency.
A key part of the future certification is expected to focus on the safe handling of any blade failures, since the front fan that provides most of an engine’s thrust would not be housed inside the conventional housing familiar to airline passengers.
A one-fifth mockup of the “Open Fan” concept revealed to reporters on Friday sits inside a vast tunnel outside Modane in the French Alps and will be subjected to 200 hours of testing.
The historic S1MA wind tunnel was originally built from plans and steel parts captured at the end of World War Two from a construction site in the Austrian Tirol, where Nazi Germany had been racing to exploit advances in propulsion and aeronautics.
The plans included a system of interchangeable test chambers, each weighing 500 tonnes, which slot into the massive rectangular tunnel on rails, and which are still in use today.
France’s ONERA research body says it is the biggest wind tunnel of its type, which involves accelerating air towards the sound barrier to duplicate or exceed typical cruise speeds.
Drawing solely on hydroelectric power, equivalent to 1,000th of France’s total consumption, the snaking set of mountainside tunnels has tested iconic aircraft from Concorde to the Airbus A380 and generations of French fighters.
Its future was placed in doubt when subsidence was spotted a decade ago, prompting an injection of French and European funds.
CFM is the world’s largest jet engine maker by the number of units sold. It is the sole engine supplier for the Boeing 737 MAX and competes with Raytheon Technologies unit Pratt & Whitney for airline engine selections on the Airbus A320neo.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Mark Potter)