The Brave New World of Jet Engine Maintenance

Rolls-Royce has a long history of excellence in the automotive and aircraft industries. Mastery of both jumbo jet engine technology and jet engine maintenance  techniques has propelled Rolls-Royce into market leadership in this sector of the aerospace industry. A BBC documentary video was created in 2010, revealing Rolls-Royce jumbo jet engine manufacturing and technology in “How to Build a Jumbo Jet Engine.”  According to the BBC,

“As Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner makes its inaugural flight, Rolls-Royce engineers celebrate the performance of its revolutionary Trent 1000 jet engines. They’re the latest in a family of sophisticated aero engines that have driven Rolls-Royce to become world leaders in the market for jumbo jet engines.

This is the story of the thousands of people who design, build and test engines at Rolls-Royce’s manufacturing plants in Derby and across the UK, making Rolls-Royce a central part of life for the people who work there.

Exploring some of the astonishing technology behind the engines’ advanced components, the programme meets the skilled engineers who design and build them, and experience the ups and downs of life on the assembly line.”

The initial video in this series is available online here . Rolls-Royce logo

Rolls-Royce Trent 900 Engine - Airbus A380

Rolls-Royce Trent Engine, Airbus A380. Credit: Wikipedia, Kolossos

Aside from being a fascinating look at the technology and manufacturing processes of a 21st century turbo fan jumbo jet engine, a significant revolution in jet engine health monitoring has also happened. This is documented below in part 3 of this 4 part series ( watch a catastrophic fan blade failure at 10:23 of this video).  Rolls-Royce has a dedicated world-wide support team for its modern Trent series jet engines, including its Trent 800 and 1000 engines. In particular, Rolls Royce has implemented remote engine health monitoring at its Darby, UK Operations Center, as shown in the videos. The broad benefits of Rolls-Royce remote engine health monitoring are depicted online  at .

In the fourth and last video, below, the Rolls-Royce Darby remote engine health monitoring team is again featured, with some important conclusions about the direction of future jet engine maintenance.

EHM jet engine maintenance

Whether flying on vacation or on a business trip, as your aircraft takes off you will likely be confident that the pilot and the crew have carried out their pre-flight checks, the ground aircraft maintenance crew have serviced and checked over the aircraft, and throughout the flight the crew will be monitoring the instruments.  But as you are flying at 30,000 feet, you may not realize that perhaps on the other side of the world, an aerospace operations center is monitoring each of the jet engines on your airplane, and support personnel can immediately identify a problem with any of the engines on your aircraft. This overall capability is known as Engine Health Monitoring  (EHM). Rolls-Royce and others now offer real-time tracking and monitoring of their jet engines to their airliner customers. Post-sales service agreements provide not only monitoring, but also advice and expertise on maintenance and engineering of the jet engines. The airlines find it cost-effective to pay for these service agreements as it cuts down on their staff and maintenance costs, and prevents service disruption by allowing an advance warning of potential problems.

FADEC  and EHM in Jet Engine Management

Each jet engine is fitted with sensors which record up to thirty important functions of the engine.  EHM utilizes a technology called FADEC, short for Full Authority Digital Engine Control.  EHM monitors such items as temperature, operations of the various components, engine vibration, and the cooling and oil supply systems. While in flight, real-time data is sent using  a satellite relay link to the Rolls-Royce Darby, UK operations center. This data is continuously monitored by the Darby support personnel.

In the operations center, computers record and analyze the incoming data (this capability is shown in the two videos provided here).  If the computers identify that an engine is performing outside pre-set parameters, the computer  highlights the problem to one of the members of the tracking staff, who then decide what action is needed. If necessary, the tracking staff at Darby can contact the pilot via the airline and warn the cockpit of a potential problem. Often, the center can arrange for an engineering team to inspect the troublesome engine when the aircraft arrives at its destination, and carry out indicated maintenance or replacement of parts if needed.

Jet Engine Maintenance and Aircraft Mechanics

What are the implications of this revolutionary recent set of developments in jet engine health monitoring?  To be clear, this technology reflects an attempt on the part of the airlines to reduce maintenance costs by outsourcing maintenance of the engines to the manufacturer. To stay competitive, most airlines are compelled to engage a jet engine manufacturer such as Rolls-Royce or GE for many years after the initial jet engine purchase, often in a lengthy service contract.

To the aircraft mechanic, it seems obvious to me this is a trend in aircraft engine maintenance that will continue to develop and intensifyAircraft mechanic schools are responding to this technology change by educating students on the need to understand the electronic monitoring of modern jet engines, and the need to understand some of the underlying computer technologies involved in jet engine maintenance and EHM. One practical implication of this developing trend is that traditional jet engine aircraft mechanic jobs may migrate to the original equipment manufacturer, rather than the airlines themselves.

It is remarkable how far Frank Whittle’s original jet turbine engine design has evolved since the 1930′s. Airlines, and in particular the consumer, are the ultimate winners in this revolutionary new jet engine technology.

Whittle W2/700 Turbine Jet Engine

Whittle W2/700 Jet Engine Credit: Wikipedia

by Steve Adams


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