Engines special report: Snecma

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With both Cessna and Dassault firmly committed to running Snecma’s Silvercrest engine on their next generation aircraft, the Citation Longitude and the Dassault Falcon FX5 respectively, the successful launch of Snecma’s new business jet engine project now looks assured. As Silvercrest Program Director Laurence Finet explains, it has been a long and challenging road to get from the initial conception to having major OEMs signed up.

“We announced that Cessna had selected Silvercrest in May 2012. It was a huge deal for us to have Cessna as the launch customer for Silvercrest. The Longitude is Cessna’s first 7,000 kilometre range jet and puts them firmly in the super, mid-size market. We have designed Silvercrest to deliver between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds of thrust, which is the sweet spot for the super mid-size and ultra large business jet market,” Finet comments.

Then, in October 2013, at NBAA, Dassault announced that it was going with Silvercrest for the Falcon 5x, its long range offering, which is designed to compete head on with Bomardier’s Global 5000 and the Gulfstream G450. The new jet, which is planned to enter service sometime around 2017, will have two Silvercrest engines, each delivering 11,450lb thrust. This was another huge win for Finet’s team and a tremendous endorsement for the Silvercrest program.

The project to design a clean-sheet business jet engine came out of Snecma’s own studies of the potential demand for mid-sized, large and long range business jets. Those studies, begun back in 2006, indicated that there would be robust growth in this segment over the two decades, with some 8,000 new aircraft being delivered to customers. The opportunity to build a new, clean sheet engine that could address today’s energy efficiency, emissions and noise constraints was irresistible, Finet says.

Snecma was in an ideal position to enter the business jet market. It would be able to draw on its expertise as a maker of military jet engines and its 40 years of experience in the commercial engine market with the CFM56 and its successor, the new generation LEAP. Best of all, it had the opportunity to build an engine that would be designed from the ground up to address fuel, noise and NOX emission targets that were not even being talked about when the current generation of business jet engines were being designed. Producing an engine that could leapfrog the competition in terms of these crucial parameters while delivering the required thrust levels more efficiently was both an exciting engineering challenge and a great business opportunity.

There are now seven Silvercrest engines fully built and on the test bed. “We are well into our test plans and are about a year, more or less, away from certification. The wins we have secured so far have been driven by the outstanding performance we have been able to demonstrate to OEMs,” Finet says.

Another key feature of Silvercrest that appeals to OEMs and operators alike, is the maintenance concept and real time monitoring build into the engine. Snecma’s ForeVision system was developed specifically for Silvercrest and draws on Snecma’s experience with commercial engines. It carries out a continuous monitoring of the engines in flight and will send any anomalous readings direct to Snecma’s data centre, where the information can be acted on by specialized engineers using expert systems.

Support services for Silvercrest will come through Snecma’s Silvercare package, providing 24/7 support from three regional service centres, in Europe, North America and Asia. Each centre will offer replacement engines and equipment, spare parts and mobile maintenance teams.

Finet points out that Snecma has been ramping up the scale of the Silvercrest team as the engine has moved closer to certification. “The team is now very large. We have some 1,500 people, not counting our partners. The main partners are Aircelle (Safran) for the nacelle and thrust reverser, plus Techspace Aero and Sagem, both Safran companies, for the lubrication unit, booster and forward sump, and the latter for the electronic control unit. Hamilton Sundstrand is providing the accessory gear box and Woodward the fuel pump metering unit and actuators. So all in all the number of people currently employed on Silvercrest is huge.”

“Bringing a new engine to market is very exciting, particularly for me as an engineer and for my fellow engineers. And it is not just the technical work. We have done a great job in marketing the Silvercrest brand which means that today there is tremendous market awareness of the brand. Moreover having state of the art new jet aircraft like the Longitude and the Falcon 5X, with all the interest that generates, is also very good for our brand,” Finet notes.

Finet has led the Silvercrest project from the get-go, since the early marketing studies and the production of the first prototype, a core demonstrator, back in 2006 through 2007. What was key in her selection as project Director was the fact that she was both a Snecma qualified mechanical engineer, and had a strong customer support background from prior roles at Snecma.

“Entering a new market – and this was Snecma’s first venture into the business aviation market – requires a sound knowledge of the potential customer base. You need to understand what business aviation customers are looking for, and bring that back inside the organisation so that the design can progress. The wins we have had show that we have been successful at listening to what the customer wants,” Finet concludes.