Big Deal: China Has Finally Figured out How to Build Powerful Jet Engines

Eugene K. Chow

Key point: Beijing is making great strides in securing a domestically-produced world-class air force.

Chinese engineering has become so advanced that German jet engines could soon get a major boost from China.

Officials in China have begun talks to sell sophisticated aerospace technology and manufacturing equipment to Germany for the production of high-performance jet engines.

As China moves to rapidly build its commercial and military aviation industry, the nation has made significant engineering breakthroughs, most notably in turbine blades, which convert the heat from fuel combustion into thrust. Turbine blades are one of the most critical components of an airplane, determining a jet engine’s safety, power and endurance.

Engineers in China have developed new processes that can make lighter and stronger blades using a hollow structure as well as single-crystal alloys that can withstand high temperatures and a special coating to facilitate cooling. These advances mean Chinese-made turbine blades are able to withstand temperatures several hundred degrees Celsius higher than the melting point of metallic alloys.

These advances are at the center of a possible sale to Germany along with manufacturing equipment that uses lasers to drill ultra-fine holes in turbine blades to keep blades cool by increasing air flow.

“Our machine has outperformed [Germany’s] on some benchmarks,” an anonymous source involved in the negotiations told the South China Morning Post. “The Germans have seen and grown interested in our technology.”

Discussions for the sale are still in the early stages, but even the possibility of an agreement with Germany, which created the world’s first production-ready jet engine and has long been revered for its design and manufacturing prowess, is a major victory for China as it seeks to shift its reputation away from cheaply made knockoffs to high-end innovation.

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