Boeing 777X Engine Recall: An Antonov An-124 Is Needed To Carry Engines

GE Aviation has recalled its four GE9X compliance engines from Boeing. The four engines would be used to power the first flights of the 777X, but have suffered from unexpected wear in the high-pressure compressor. In order to ship the four enormous engines from Boeing’s facility to GE’s in Ohio, the air freight services of a huge Antonov AN-124 will be required.

777x engine
The GE9X engines are being recalled to GE Aviation. Photo: Dan Nevill via Wikimedia Commons

The saga of the delays to the newest plane in the Boeing stable shows no sign of ending soon. After the first flight of the 777X was pushed back in June this year, due to issues with the engines, further details were revealed during the Paris Air Show that suggested the fix was not going to be easy. At that time, Boeing admitted it would be the autumn before the new bird would take to the skies, however, that has subsequently become unrealistic too.

In Boeings second-quarter earnings call, the planemaker admitted that the 777X was unlikely to take its first flight before the new year. This indicated that the problems with the GE9X engines ran much deeper than initially thought.

Today, we’re getting an indication of just how deep, as GE Aviation has apparently recalled four engines from Boeing in order to address the fault in detail.

GE recalls the GE9X engines

According to Flight Global, GE Aviation has recalled four powerplants from Boeing in order to address the known compressor issue. The four GE9X ‘compliance engines’ will be shipped to GE’s facilities in Ohio. According to Flight Global, GE commented that,

“The GE9X engines are the compliance engines that will be returned for the high-pressure compressor hardware enhancements that GE revealed at the Paris air show. GE Aviation remains aligned with Boeing on this effort as we work toward first flight”.

Back at the Paris Air Show, GE Aviation executives talked to the press about issues with the GE9X engines. At the time, they discussed a problem with the high-pressure compressor, specifically a stator that was wearing much faster than they anticipated. GE said at the time it would need several months to work on the fixes.

Boeing 777X Close-Up
The composite fan of the GE9X engines is more than 11 feet in diameter. Photo: Boeing.

Simple Flying reached out to Boeing to see what impact this latest development could have on the timetable for the 777X entry into service. A Boeing spokesperson responded to us, saying,

“As GE announced at the Paris Air Show and we discussed during 2nd Quarter Earnings call, there were some challenges with the engine that were discovered during pre-flight testing. Therefore, Boeing is returning the first set of GE9X test flight engines to GE for retrofit.

“Boeing currently plans for first flight to take place in early 2020.”

So, it sounds like this is actually a positive thing, as it signifies GE is on track to implement their fix once the engines are received in Ohio.

A big engine needs a big plane

The news of the recall was first noted on the 19th of August when a filing to the US Department of Transport (DoT) came to light. The filing was issued by Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Airlines, who will be flying the four powerplants from Boeing Field in Washington state to Ohio. But why was a Russian airline applying for permission to move the engines?

The answer is simple – they’re massive. The 777-9 will feature the largest and most powerful engines ever seen on an aircraft, and at 13 feet in diameter (15 feet at the nacelle) they could literally swallow a 737 fuselage whole. When packed up on their stands, the application to the DoT states that they will occupy 8x4x4m of space, and will weight 36,000 lb. (16,300 kg).

GE9X engine size
The GE9X can swallow the fuselage of a 737. Image: GE

As no US airline has the ability to haul such enormous, heavy pieces of equipment, it was necessary to look for a suitable cargo aircraft to move them.

According to the filing, the airline will use an Antonov AN-124 to move the engines. This quad jet aircraft has been designed from the ground up to be a load shifter, and can carry up to 150 tons of cargo on board. It has 24 wheels, the ability to kneel to receive cargo and an onboard overhead crane suitable for lifting up to 30 tones and winching 120 tones.

Volga-Dnepr_Antonov_An-124
Volga Dnepr’s AN-124 in action. Photo: Fran Jurado via Wikimedia

Volga-Dnepr has 12 of the Antonov AN-124s in its fleet, with three more on order. It plans to transport the engines and ancillary parts to GE within a months’ time, pending approval by the DoT. The airline has indicated than any delay to the application process could lead to a delay in the 777X development.

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Nigel

Could they not be transported by train?
Oddsize loads (such as turbines and tanks) are regularly transported on flatbed freight wagons.

Paul proctor

Why expose sensitive engines to unnecessary track vibration, train stops and starts on our less than ideal railroad infrastructure (or road for that matter)? USA also wide country, so would take too long. With the jet smooth ride, avoiding known turbulence, all you want is a smooth landing.

Nigel

Because a train transport could be arranged relatively quickly, rather than “within a months’ time”.
It seems Boeing has forgotten that there are customers waiting for their — delayed — orders.

DJ

Train transport would not be so quick..A: they would need special “clearances” in order to proceed via rail. The reason…it’s wider than a train flatcar and won’t fit through most rail tunnels. B: because of reason A, they would have to ship down then across and up. So the within a months time 5 hr flight, beats rail.

P.Kaiser

Ironically, one of those AN-124s is sitting here in Phoenix. It dropped a large machine load for Intel and has been parked here for a couple weeks. It was supposed to leave a couple weeks ago but I think they were waiting for some work before moving it.

RC20

Yes they can be carried by train. One of the issues though is you can flat spot bearings with the rumble. Boeing has 8 of the engines and they other 4 will be used on ground test then they too will get upgraded. Kind of odd that someone did not sang a few C-17s for this kind of mission. A lot more economical adn reliable than the ANs are. They come through Anchorage all the time (as did the AN-224 which was amazing). Quite a bit of fast alrge freigh needed aroudn the worl

Gary

Those that are going through anchorage all the time.
Would be the aircraft parts that are made of titanium going to Boeing.
That are made in Russia.

DJ

Not just engine damage but as I replied above, rail travel would be long. And those engines will not fit in a C-17. The engines on stands sit at almost 14′ and would be a nightmare loading backwards through the rear cargo door…again only 1 engine at a time.

Ralph Webb

A C17 could not hold it

Anonymous

Antothicc

Steve

So how will that be once the production line of the 777X runs? How do they get the engines built in Ohio to boeing? And what if an engine breaks down somewhere in the world once the 777X is in service? How do they get an engine for replacement there? Obviously, at least in the second case, america’s new pride and joy is depndent on a russian aircraft and a russian freight airline to ensure operations run smoothly in the future… Am i the only one who sees the irony here? (Hello american sanctions on russia!) Maybe GE should buy… Read more »

Nigel

Good questions.
Although in-the-field replacement of large engines regularly relies on heavy transport planes such as the Antonov, I’d love to know what means of transport GE has envisaged to transport production engines to Boeing. Why isn’t the Boeing 747 transporter being used for this return to Ohio? After all, that can carry a fuselage…so it should be able to carry a GE9X. This is now (at least) the second time that an Antonov has been used:
https://www.heavyliftnews.com/ge-entrusts-delivery-of-the-world-s-largest-jet-engine-to-volga-dnepr-airlines/

CG

By the way Antonov is Ukraine and Not Russia! If they were Russian, the US C5 Galaxys would be used as preference than a non-alied owned airframe.

Gary

Volga-Dnepr is a Russian Airline and not from Ukraine.
The AN-124 was funded by Russia in the Soviet times and built in the Ukraine.
Russia has decided last year to start manufacturing the AN-24 back in Russia.
Volga-Dnepr Airlines, LLC is an airline based in Ulyanovsk, Russia. It specializes in providing air charter services by operating a unique fleet of twelve Antonov An-124, five Boeing 747-8F and five IL-76TD-90VD ramp all cargo aircraft certified for global operations.

Oleksii Murovtsev

Antonov design center has always been and is in Kyiv, Ukraine, even during the Soviet Union times. Indeed, some of AN-124 were produced in Voronezh plant in Russia. No way relaunch of production can be done without blessing from Antonov. Imagine Boeing aircraft produced in China just because someone like it locally?

Gary

The company was established in 1946 at the Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association as the top-secret Soviet Research and Design Bureau No. 153. It was headed by Oleg Antonov and specialised in turboprop military transport aircraft. The An-2 biplane was a major achievement of this period, with hundreds of these aircraft still operating as of 2013. In 1952, the Bureau was relocated to Kiev, a city with a rich aviation history and an aircraft-manufacturing infrastructure restored after the destruction caused by World War II. In July 2013, 26 An-124s were in commercial service with 10 on order.[9] In August 2014, it… Read more »

DJ

CargoLogicAir, Volga-Dnepr’s logistics company, is based in UK. They have an office in the US and an AN-124 stationed there.

Oleksii Murovtsev

There is just one extra comment. AN 124 is not a place from Russia, but from Ukraine

Gary

Plenty of old US Air Force C5’s sitting rotting away in the boneyard in the US.
Get some out of storage from there.
Then do a return on them to use them on this kind of work.

Braniff

Good idea–but I have to wonder if the top Air Force brass in the Pentagon and elsewhere have considered that option. For all I know, it might be an extra source of income for the department of defense–and even save the taxpayer$ $ome money. I hope someone in Washington State or Chicago writes to their U. S Representative or Senator

Vince

Couldn’t the Boeing Dreamlifter do the job? It can haul the 787 fuselage so it should be able to fit the GE9X engines… I know the Airbus Beluga can…

Nigel

Maybe nobody at Boeing/GE had given any previous thought to this problem, and they’re now forced to improvise…who knows?
The Dreamlifters are probably all busy trying to ship Dreamliner parts; after all, the 787 is currently Boeing’s main source of income.

OVTraveller

It seems to me that Airbus has been able to transport very wide components for their A 380.
In the true spirit of competition might Boeing not have asked Airbus to help out with their little problem rather than the Russians?

RC20

Its not Russian its Ukraine.

fjk

Sometimes big engines are carried on the wing with an extra pylon. Qantas had a 747 in South Africa with a dead engine a while back so they flew another 747 from Sydney with a 5th engine mounted under the wing.

GE has a 747 they use for testing engines and they normally take one of the 747 engines off and swap it with the test engine. They did this for testing of the GE90/X.

RC20

Not the norm anymore though the wing position for the engine is built into the 747 (much used with the -100 and the problem P&W had with that engine) and you need 4 trips If anyone would bother to look it up the 747F type with nose opening is only 98″ x 104″ As the engine is 134″…………………………………. yes you can take the cowling off but engines are transported on a special wheeled rack, so that adds to the height and width. It ain’t going to fit. ANs fly for Boeing all the time. They pick up slack for the… Read more »

Matt

The Volga-Dnepr An-124s fly just about all GE engines to Seattle. You see them all the time at SeaTac. I’d like to know why Boeing Field was selected to pick up these engines. I would think they would fly right into Paine Field, or SeaTac like normal.

Frank

I know there are always teething problems with a new aircraft, happens all the time. Somehow, I feel that Boeing is simply pushing the envelope too far, in terms of engineering – in order to make things work. Folding wingtips, largest engine ever (read: biggest vacuum cleaner) – I’m not saying the aircraft would be unsafe, but the 777X has the ability to be a real maintenance nightmare. As Mentour pilot put it – folding wingtips are just one more mechanical thing that can malfunction and break, grounding an aircraft. Any debris that gets in there between the runway (when… Read more »