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Extreme Wind Tunnel Puts NextGen Jet Engines and Industrial Internet Through Paces

by Txchnologist Staff

With the wind chill, it felt like -16 degrees Fahrenheit this morning in Winnipeg, Canada. By most assessments, that’s chilly.

But in a test facility located at the city’s James A. Richardson International Airport, it’s not frigid, it’s just right. Within this cavernous 122,500-square-foot space, GE is putting its next-generation jet engines through some of the most extreme conditions the state-of-the-art equipment will ever face.

(With temperatures in the -20s at night, steam from the heated platform arises after a night of ice testing at GE and StandardAero’s jet engine test facility in Winnipeg, Canada. Employee Michael Duguay ensures the facility is ready to go for the next day.)

See more pictures after the jump.

Technicians have suspended the engine within a giant wind tunnel that is powered by seven 250-horsepower fans. Water from 125 high-power nozzles is sprayed into the gale, causing it to freeze into clouds of ice headed at high speed straight into the inlet of the test engine. The engine is forced to ingest 2,800 pounds of icy, freezing air per second.

(The Genx being blasted by the ice cloud, in the strongest test the facility would simulate. The extreme conditions generated at this test center exceed anything found in nature.)

This may seem like a bit of testing overkill, but the facility mimics some of the harshest conditions—including extreme icing—the engines could face when they are brought into service carrying passengers around the world. It’s all part of the FAA’s strict testing regimen to ensure aircraft are as safe as they can be.

(The ring of lights on the ice-generating tunnel project light onto the engine and ice cloud. GE engineers are capturing high-speed photography to determine, among other things, exactly how ice builds up on the fan blades and spinner.)

But beyond just testing advanced engines for their ability to withstand the toughest conditions they may ever encounter, the facility is also putting the future of connected, smart machines through their paces. Here, the different sensors that have been installed throughout the engine communicate with its main computer, helping the onboard artificial brain make millions of miniscule adjustments every second to maximize the whole system’s efficiency and power output. This is the Industrial Internet on display in the most dynamic and harsh environment.

(Part of the FADEC—full authority digital engine control—is pictured at the top of the photo. The FADEC is the “brains” of the engine. The goal of this computer is to allow the engine to perform at maximum efficiency given any condition. As the engine grows more complex, like the GEnx, the FADEC must accommodate more complicated operations and respond accordingly.)

The company and partner StandardAero opened the $50 million aircraft engine Testing, Research and Development Center (TRDC) in Winnipeg last year. The 50-foot-tall, three-sided facility was designed to test gas turbine engines up to 150 inches in diameter and up to 150,000 pounds of thrust, and can accommodate high-performance military engines.

Top Image: The wind tunnel and its seven high-powered fans pictured at night at GE and StandardAero’s Winnipeg, Canada test facility.

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