In 1971, Safran Aircraft Engines (formerly Snecma) of France selected GE as a partner to develop a new turbofan engine in the 20,000 pound thrust class. Three years later, the 50/50 joint company – named CFM International – was formally established and would become one of the greatest success stories in aviation history.
This original engine collaboration combined Safran’s fan technology with core engine technology from GE’s F101 military engine. The GE/Safran collaboration was founded on a desire to gain a share of the short-to-medium-range aircraft market, dominated in the early 1970s by low bypass engines. CFM wanted to compete with the Pratt & Whitney JT8D engine then powering the Boeing 737-100/-200 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9 twinjets, as well as the Boeing 727 trijet.
CFM proved that patience is a virtue as the joint company did not receive its first order until 1979, when the CFM56-2 turbofan was selected to re-engine the DC-8 Series 60 aircraft, renamed the DC-8 Super 70s. Then the USAF selected the military version of the CFM56-2, designated the F108 in this application, to re-engine its fleet of KC-135 tanker aircraft to the KC-135R configuration. With these landmark orders, the CFM56 was on its way.
The original CFM56-2 would go on to power more than 550 commercial and military aircraft worldwide.
In a landmark 1981 decision, Boeing selected the CFM56-3 turbofan to power the popular Boeing 737-300/400/500 “Classic” series aircraft. Also in the 1980s, the CFM56-5 engine family was designed to power the highly popular Airbus Industrie A318, A319, A320, and A321. The CFM56-5C also powered the original four-engine Airbus A340.
In the early 1990s, Boeing selected the CFM56-7 engine for the Next-Generation 737-600/-700/-800/-900 series. The CFM56-7 would experience an aggressive production run for more than 20 years.
CFM International has continued to advance jet engine propulsion. In 1995, the company made history when the first engine equipped with a double annular combustor (DAC), the CFM56-5B, entered commercial service with Swissair. The TECH56 technology program, launched in 1998, advanced propulsion for upgrades to existing engines and served as baseline technology for the next-generation CFM turbofan, ultimately called the LEAP.
In 2008, CFM International launched the LEAP engine to power new narrow-body aircraft on the horizon. This engine introduced several new technologies, including carbon-fiber front fan blades and the first ceramic matrix composite components in the hot section of a commercial jet engine.
By 2011, the LEAP engine was successfully launched on the Airbus A320 neo, the Boeing 737 MAX, and the COMAC C919. By 2018, the LEAP order backlog exceeded 15,000 engines. That represents seven years worth of engine production. Also in 2018, LEAP deliveries surpassed CFM56 deliveries.
FlightGlobal Ascend Aircraft Fleet Database has ranked the CFM56 family as the most popular commercial jet engine family in aviation history with more than 23,000 engines delivered. Into this new decade, the CFM International family of engines – including both the CFM56 and LEAP – will represent the most produced jet engines in jet propulsion history.
GE’s famed J47 fighter engine of the 1940s and 1950s, the most produced jet engine ever with more than 35,000 engines delivered, is now looking over its shoulder at the CFM fleet of CFM56 and LEAP engines.
Marine & Industrial Gas Turbines
As the world's leading manufacturer of aircraft gas turbines, it was a logical step for GE to expand its activities into the marine and industrial arenas. Thousands of GE aeroderivative gas turbine engines have been sold for marine and industrial use.
In 1959, GE introduced the LM1500, a derivative of the very successful J79. The LM1500 was initially installed aboard a hydrofoil ship.
In 1968, GE launched the LM2500, a nominal 20,000-shaft-horsepower gas turbine based on the TF39 engine. The LM2500 has become the mainstay of GE's current marine and industrial business, with more than fifty classes of ships in 24 world navies and several fast ferries. In the 1980s, GE introduced the LM1600, based on the F404 engine. During the 1990s, improved, lower-emission versions of the LM2500, LM1600, and LM6000 were introduced.
GE Industrial Aeroderivative Gas Turbines, part of GE Power Systems, has assumed responsibility for design, development and production of aeroderivative gas turbines for industrial applications. GE Industrial Aeroderivative Gas Turbines is headquartered at the Evendale plant, as is GE Marine Engines, which remains a part of GE Aerospace.