Air Transport World

Manufacturers positioning for coming competitive battles. (at Farnborough air show)

Manufacturers positioning for coming competitive battles

Farnborough, England--Two years ago at the Farnborough air show General Electric unveiled its Unducted Fan proposal for its first major public showing. It received considerable attention and equal amounts of skepticism from rival engine makers, chiefly Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney. The first UDF now has flown in California's Mojave desert, a long way from Farnborough, but its impact was felt at the 27th Society of British Aerospace Companies' air show.

This year's event was not so much a display of new hardware for inspection by the world's airlines as it was an arena for the positioning and maneuvering of the major transport manufacturers as they gird for the next round of new and derivative transport program competitive struggles. Much of this has been spawned by the UDF and similar propfan efforts.

Some of the major issues relating to the new propulsion systems and the large transport manufacturers that came into sharper focus at this year's Farnborough were:

The growing dominance of Boeing in the commercial transport field and the increasing difficulty rivals Airbus Industrie and McDonnell Douglas face in launching competitive programs because of tremendous development costs.

The increasing economic pressure to form international collaborative efforts to develop costly new programs at a time when some of the existing joint programs are running into conflicts.

Continuing uncertainties in the airline market, particularly in the United States, raising doubts about airlines' desire or ability to buy the new transports, these coupled with the related uncertainties about fuel prices, the key driver of the propfan effort in the first place.

The Boeing Company brought no airplanes to Farnborough. It had a rather small exhibit and the usual hospitality chalet. What it did bring, along with G.E., was a video tape of the August 20 maiden flight over the Mojave desert of the G.E. UDF Demonstrator mounted in the number three engine position on the company 727-100 test bed.

UDF success key

The UDF is the prime candidate to power Boeing's all-new 7J7 150-seat transport proposal. Success of the new powerplant is a key factor in whether or not the 7J7 will be built. During the first flight, a low altitude (200 ft.) fly-by was made with the UDF using much of its 25,000-lb. thrust capability and the JT8Ds at idle. The noise, or lack of it, was impressive on the tape and in the reports from people at the show who witnessed the Mojave flight. Propfan noise generation has been a major question that must be answered by full-scale tests. Far from being frightened off UDF by the Mojave experience, the participants were bubbling with enthusiasm.

James Johnson, VP and general manager of Boeing's 7J7 program, pointed out during the Farnborough briefings that the UDF flying in the Mojave tests is not optimized for noise, having two eight-bladed fans of the same diameter. He said there would be noise reduction if the rear fan had fewer blades than the front and also had a smaller diameter. G.E. said at the show that the UDF being constructed for the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 tests next year would have a 10-blade front fan, while retaining eight in the rear disk.

Johnson said that Boeing's goal still is to have the 7J7 ready for delivery in the first quarter of 1992. He noted that if slack put into the program for engineering uncertainty was removed the program could be advanced.

One of the major issues in the 7J7 program has been the cabin diameter, with Boeing exploring both twin and single aisle configurations for the 150-seat transport. Executive VP Philip M. Condit did not resolve the issue at Farnborough, but he said airline reaction to the proposals has a "bias toward two aisles.' He said Boeing expects to decide this issue in about nine months with the configuration and specifications for the 7J7 complete by June of next year.

Condit also said Boeing is studying a 100-110 seat version of the 7J7 which could be launched simultaneously with the 150-seat version, and even with a different diameter fuselage. It could be a single aisle transport, if the larger version is a twin aisle transport, according to Condit. …

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