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GE's key role in generating more electricity on aircraft

GE's electrical power systems business, with an eye toward the increasing need for power on airplanes, is about to open the first of its kind research facility on the campus of theUniversity of Dayton. The EPISCENTER (Electrical Power Integrated Systems Center) will provide the floor space and infrastructure needed to test four complete electrical systems.

The Need

Powering a plane requires a lot of electricity…everything from cockpit computers to HD touch screens. On the military side, more power means better weaponry. President of GE Aviation Systems Electric Power Vic Bonneau says next-generation aircraft will demand up to four times more power than today.

“Ultimately aircraft are much more electric. You get in an airplane today and the seat’s electric, the display’s electric, the whole in-flight entertainment. None of that, none of that existed ten years ago and it just keeps growing.”

  • Electrical requirements have jumped
  • Equipment has become larger and larger
  • Generators went from producing 40-60w to 250,000w
  • To save space, systems are being integrated.

By the end of the year the new $50 million research and development center will employ about 60 people. That number will rise to between 150 and 200 people in the next five years. It's on UD's campus near Wright Patterson Air force Base and GE's Vandalia generator plant, where researchers will predict how next generation aircraft and hybrid vehicle electrical systems will perform and correct problems before the hardware is built. This will be a collaborative effort between GE and it's customers:

  • Boeing
  • Northrup
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Airbus

The University of Dayton's role

The University of Dayton will be a collaborator.Mickey McCabe, VP of Research for UDsays it will involve the students, the faculty and the researchers. "It's about helping a Fortune 10 company create and discover new ways to do better things with their products. The students will benefit because they'll come to UD, knowing there's an opportunity to work at a GE research center. GE will have the opportunity to select a few students, have them work in laboratories and see how they perform over a couple of years."

GE is branching out

GE Aviation is known best for designing, developing and manufacturing aircraft engines. The engines connect to GE generators which make the electricity. The cables from the generators go into distribution equipment throughout the plane. It’s this arena, the distribution of power, that GE is trying to become a bigger player.  Far and away the leader is UTC Aerospace Systems. However GE says it’s electrical power systems business is on track to double from 2009 to 2014.

This fall UD will have a new curriculum in engineering with a focus on electric power. It’s relevant considering in the future engines are expected to be started electrically. Bonneau says eventually the engine and the electric system could be tied together and GE could sell them as a unit.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.