With the world’s largest trade show for agricultural aviation kicking off in Savannah, Ga., on December 6, one of the newest, albeit smaller, additions to the GE Aviation line-up is turning heads.
The new H80 engine just made its first flight on the Thrush 510G Aircraft — which will be the first plane to use it. Designed for general-purpose use — or for agriculture needs such as for crop-dusting — the engine is the first new one out of the gate since GE Aviation bought some of the assets of Walter Engines in mid-2008.
As AirVenture.org noted when the engine was on display at the recent Oshkosh Air Show, “GE was able to make large improvements over the original Walter engine by using its expertise in aerodynamics and high-temperature materials.”
“Much of the gain came from a redesign of the compressor inlet to smooth airflow. The compressor wheels are now blisks, meaning that the wheel and the blades are machined from a single piece of metal rather than having individual blades inserted into a wheel. The airfoil shape of the compressor blades has been optimized based on the vast research GE has done on its jet engines.”
They also note that the fuel system has also been streamlined, so that individual fuel injectors have been replaced with a “fuel slinger” that “atomizes the fuel as it sprays it evenly into the burner.”
AviationWeek says that compared to the existing engines on the market, the improvements will be seen as tough competition as “the H80 will offer an increased gross weight, better hot and high performance and reduced maintenance.”
Those kinds of advantages are critical given that agricultural-use planes have to be rugged enough to handle 30 to 100 take-offs and landings every day from rough landing strips. And maintenance costs, while important to every airline, can take an even bigger toll in the agriculture industry as over 90% of agricultural pilots own their own business and operate their aircraft.
Getting ready: Since its first flight two weeks ago, the H80-powered Thrush has flown an additional five hours and has achieved experimental certification from the FAA. Turboprop planes basically use a turbine similar to those used in jets to spin a propeller.
Maiden flight: Thrush Aircraft has about 2,000 planes flying in 90 countries.
Don’t call it a ‘crop-duster’: While known as crop-dusters since 1921, in fact, most of what agricultural planes dispense is liquid — so “dusting” doesn’t necessarily apply. Some of the planes are used to control insects, weeds, and diseases that threaten crops. Others “plant” seed “from the air into flooded rice fields; spread rye grass seed in cornfields prior to harvest to prevent soil erosion; and they fertilize and add nutrients to soil for healthy crops and forests,” the pilots association notes.