Video: Here’s How Massive Jet Engines Are Tested Before Returning to Flight

Feb 22, 2019

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While touring Delta’s TechOps maintenance and repair operations center at its Atlanta headquarters last year, I had an opportunity to peek in at a facility that was under construction. I was told that when it was complete, it would be the world’s largest jet engine test cell — the first cell built by a US airline in more than 20 years.

Engines that aren't invented yet will eventually be tested here (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)
Engines that aren’t invented yet will eventually be tested here (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

This week, that cell opened. Within, it is capable of safely running a mounted, stationary engine at full power with 150,000 pounds of thrust. Such a massive cell will allow Delta to test engines that haven’t yet been invented, and it’s seeing plenty of work right away.

Delta's newest test cell in Atlanta (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)
Delta’s newest test cell in Atlanta (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

The new cell will enable Delta to test a wider array of jet engines, including the Trent 1000, 7000 and XWB and the PW1100 and PW1500 variants of the Geared Turbofan. You may recall that the Trent 1000 is (presently) best known for giving Dreamliner operators fits with reliability.

A Boeing 777-200 sits in a Delta hangar at ATL (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)
A Boeing 777-200 sits in a Delta hangar at ATL (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

To compare, the airline’s current test cell has a 68,000 pound thrust capacity and the most powerful jet engine in the world today, the GE90 that powers Delta’s Boeing 777-200LR fleet, is rated up to 115,000 pounds of thrust.

Once the engine is in place, it's pushed to its limits to ensure reliability (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)
Once the engine is in place, it’s pushed to its limits to ensure reliability (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

In October 2015, Delta and Rolls-Royce signed a formal agreement for Delta TechOps to become an Authorized Maintenance Center for Rolls-Royce engines. Under the agreement, the airline will provide engine services for the latest generation of Rolls-Royce Trent XWB, Trent 1000, Trent 7000 and BR715 engines.

Engineers ingest loads of data as the engine is tested (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

With more than 7,000 engines already committed to the engine shop and test cell over the next 30 years, immediate next steps for the facility include proving and data validation for the cell, the commissioning of the cell with the Trent XWB engine, Trent 1000 Electric Start System installation, the Trent 1000 commissioning, correlation and production test, with the first production test taking place in late 2019.

Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines
Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines

While it’s still a relatively small slice of Delta’s overall revenue, the airline “expects to grow the top line of the MRO business by $1 billion a year over the next five years.”

Perhaps most interesting for flyers is the inside look that Delta has provided as to how this facility will actually work. Considering the thrust, it’s understandably difficult to get a peek at how engines are tested. The video above peels back the curtain to detail the whole process a jet engine goes through when either an issue is detected or it’s simply due for routine maintenance. Needless to say, it’s a little more complicated than your everyday automobile oil change.

Featured photo courtesy Delta Air Lines.

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