Mind Meld: Where Edison Meets the Wright Brothers

Tue, 08/20/2013 - 9:03am
General Electric

GE’s latest jet engine, LEAP, uses parts made from revolutionary materials called ceramic matrix composites, or CMCs. The ceramic can handle the punishing forces inside a jet engine at temperatures as high as 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Since CMCs are also a third lighter than conventional alloys now used to make jet engine parts, they can shave hundreds of pounds from a jet engine and reduce fuel burn. GE developed the LEAP in a joint venture with France’s Snecma called CFM International. Thomas Edison was not the first engineer to build a working light bulb, and the Wright brothers were not the first aviators to fly an aircraft. But like Edison, they took an abstract idea and made it practical.

Edison came up with a carbon filament that made bulbs shine reliably for days. Orville and Wilbur Wright completed the first self-powered flight and invented the airplane. Their achievement was so momentous that, in 1939, FDR chose to celebrate August 19, Orville Wright’s birthday, as National Aviation Day.

The innovative legacy of the Wrights and Edison now resonates inside a single company. GE, established by Edison, built the first American jet engine. Today, GE makes the most powerful jet engines from futuristic materials, designs technologies that make flying cheaper and more efficient, and helps planes land at some of the most forbidding airports.

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