For most travelers, an aisle seat and a beverage in cabin-controlled comfort is all they need for a comfortable plane ride. The marvel of traveling at 30,000 feet in short-sleeves is hardly a consideration, let alone the engine that might be powering that plane.
But the engine attached to the wing is all that engineer Chris Lorence has considered while working at GE Aviation. An aerospace engineer for the last 24 years, including serving as General Manager for the CFM-56 and LEAP engines when LEAP entered into service, Lorence steps onto commercial jets knowing more about the safety, reliability and technology that goes into the engines than almost anyone.
Pride on the Wing
Lorence recently traveled from GE Aviation headquarters in Cincinnati to Bangalore, a trip that consisted of five flights, 16,000 round-trip miles and a wing seat. With CFM and GE powering a flight every two seconds somewhere in the world, it was no surprise that all five legs of Lorence’s flights were powered by GE or CFM*.
“The first thing I do when I step onto a plane is look out the little window so I can see whether it is a CFM or GE engine on the wing,” Lorence said. “When I was on the 777 from Mumbai to Paris, we were powered by the GE90-115 engine. The GE90 was one of the first engines I worked on when I joined the company. There is a lot of pride for me in seeing our engine on the wing and knowing that I had a part in it.”
When asked if he ever strides aboard aircraft pointing out to crew members that he helped develop the engine, Lorence laughs. “No, but it’s tempting,” he says. “But I do know what our engines go through in testing and I know their development.”
Indeed, as General Manager of CFM-56 and LEAP, Lorence led the certification, entry into service and aggressive production ramp-up for the LEAP-1A and -1B engines, as well as supported the 22,000-plus installed base of CFM56 engines.
As LEAP-1A and -1B went through design and testing for entry into service, Lorence and his team received a constant stream of information from all over the world, day and night as data came in from shops across the globe. It reached a fever pitch from time to time. Case in point: When the LEAP-1A was put through its testing paces at the Peebles Test Facility in 2016, Lorence received real-time updates via his phone.
“I would be at my son’s soccer game and see the results coming in from ice-ingestion testing, wind, sand, all of it. Multiple times an hour day and night,” he says. “It was exhausting but exhilarating.”
A LEAP in Utilization
Lorence’s love of aviation began in childhood with model planes, so when it came time to choose a major in college there was really no debating it: engineering would be his path.
His journey at GE Aviation began in 1995 with the GE90. As a young engineer, he saw a lot of engines enter into service, but it was when he took on CFM that his mindset shifted from being a part of a program to feeling more deeply connected to the engine lines.
The biggest transformation he has witnessed at GE is engine utilization, specifically on the LEAP engine. With a 96 percent utilization rate and over 3 million flight hours, LEAP’s stable design has translated into more time on wing and industry-leading utilization for airline customers.
“Utilization is such a powerful lever,” he said. “It’s our key measurement now. If our customers aren’t flying passengers, they aren’t making money. Fuel burn and operating costs are great benefits of LEAP, but nothing trumps utilization. Our customers have an asset that is available to them whenever they need it. That is how we lead with LEAP.”
CFM delivered 1,118 LEAP engines in 2018, which is more than double the 2017 LEAP engine rate. As the ramp-up continues, CFM is on track to deliver 1,800+ LEAP engines in 2019 and will reach more than 2,000 engines per year by 2020.
Today, Lorence is a process leader focused on supporting customers. While less deeply involved in the day-to-day of specific engines, his current role encompasses all of GE Aviation’s and CFM International’s engine lines.
As an engineer, he’s helped design and develop the technology for so many.
The GE90. The CFM-56. The GE9X. The F110.
But his favorite engine?
“It’s like choosing my favorite kid,” he says. “But the LEAP will always be the most special to me because I was involved in so many parts of it.”
*CFM56 and LEAP engines are products of CFM International, a 50/50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines.