The World's First High By-Pass Turbofan Engine
The CF6 can trace its beginnings to the early 1960's and the GE TF39 engine. In 1965, GE was awarded the contract to develop the engines for the USAF's Lockheed C-5A 'Galaxy' transport. The C-5A ushered in the day of the super sized transport, and its GE TF39 engines marked the introduction of the high bypass turbofan. Prior to the TF39, bypass ratios of turbofan engines were less than two-to-one. The TF39 made bypass ratios of eight-to-one possible, resulting in fuel consumption that was 25 percent lower than other engines available. The technology and design philosophy incorporated into this powerplant launched GE into the high bypass commercial market.
The Early Years - CF6-6 & CF6-50
In the late 60's, Lockheed and Douglas joined the commercial widebody competition with their tri-jet offerings designed to serve high density, medium-range routes. At this point in time GE had much of the TF39 R&D behind them and were ready to move forward with a new engine design, the CF6-6, modeled after the TF39 for use on the Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011.
After a fierce engine competition between Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce, and GE, both United Airlines and American Airlines in the spring of 1968 selected the 40,000 pound thrust GE CF6-6 to power their Douglas DC-10 Series 10 Aircraft. One year later, Douglas launched a longer range DC-10 which they designated the Douglas DC-10 Series 30. To match the new thrust requirements of the longer range series 30 aircraft, GE offered a new 46,000 to 54,000 pound thrust CF6 derivative called the CF6-50. It was announced at the 1969 Paris Airshow that the KSSU group (KLM, Swissair, SAS, and UTA) would become the launch customer for the longer range DC-10 Series 30 and that they had selected the CF6-50 to power the new aircraft. Not all news in the late 1960's was good for GE. In early spring of 1968, GE learned that the Rolls Royce RB211 was going to be the launch engine for the Lockheed L-1011. As history would show, the RB211 became the only engine available on the L-1011.
Both the DC-10 and the L-1011 had originally been called "airbuses" but that generic nickname faded early following the growth of the two airplanes and their change from two to three engines. But the basic 'airbus' idea- a somewhat shorter-range twinjet with a wide fuselage for greater passenger capacity- was still alive in Europe. The creation of GE's CF6-50 was very attractive since it offered plenty of power for the twin engine airplane- in late 1969 the CF6-50 was selected to power the new Airbus Industrie A300. Air France became the launch customer for the A300 by ordering six aircraft in 1971.
1972 was the time when General Electric achieved a share of satisfaction after nearly six years of frustration following the 1966 decision to turn away from the original competition for the Boeing 747 powerplant. The U.S. Air Force selected GE's CF6-50 to power the Airborne Command Post version of the 747, the E-4A. The engine later achieved its second military application as the powerplant for the McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Advanced Cargo Tanker.
Many of the world's airlines were already flying P&W powered 747's, but engine commonality became a major factor with carriers operating CF6-powered DC-10's and A300's. The selection of the CF6-50 by the USAF opened the door for GE to offer CF6 power on the 747 in a commercial application. In 1975, KLM was the first airline to order the Boeing 747 with GE CF6 power.
Twinjets Gain Acceptance - CF6-80A
In the late 1970's, an advanced model in the CF6 family was introduced for new short-to-medium range commercial jetliners as well as for advanced models of existing commercial aircraft. The CF6-80A, which has a thrust rating of 48,000-50,000 pounds, was selected by domestic and foreign airlines to power two new twinjets, the Boeing 767 and Airbus Industrie A310. The GE-powered Boeing aircraft entered airline service in 1982, the GE powered A310 in early 1983.
The CF6-80C2 is Born
Over the next few years, GE continued to improve on its CF6 design. A higher thrust, more energy efficient CF6-80C2 with a slightly larger fan than the -80A was developed with thrust ratings from 52,500 to 63,500 pounds. This advanced powerplant entered commercial service in 1985, and was chosen to power two advanced versions of the Airbus Industrie A300, two versions of the A310, four models of the advanced Boeing 767, three versions of the Boeing 747, and the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 trijet.
The Newest Family Member - CF6-80E1
The next derivative of the highly successful CF6 family line is the CF6-80E1. The CF6-80E1 was developed to provide higher thrust levels required for advanced, stretched versions of the new generation widebody aircraft such as the Airbus Industrie A330 and other potential new generation widebody aircraft. While the engine is similar to that of the CF6-80C2, the engine incorporates a new 96-inch fan and a new 4-stage booster with all new aerodynamics for increased pressure ratio. The CF6-80E1A2 was certified at 67,500 pounds thrust in May 1993 and entered revenue service with Air Inter in January 1994. Since its launch the -80E1 has added two new thrust levels. The CF6-80E1A4 is rated at 70,000 pounds of thrust and in June 2001 the CF6-80E1A3, our newest CF6 version, was certified at 72,000 pounds of thrust and entered service with Air France in early 2002.
Few at GE would have thought that the CF6 would still be in production after 30 years. Granted, the CF6 engines coming off the production line in the year 2001 are much different than the engines in 1971, the basic engine architecture is still the same. This 30 year product run is a testimony to the solid design characteristics, superb operational characteristics, and a solid customer base which continues to this day to rely on the CF6 to exceed their airlines operational needs.
For more about the history of GE Aviation, visit the GE Aviation History web page.