Aero Composites: How Composite Fan Blades Revolutionized Aviation

Aerospace Composites

Steve Jobs said innovation is the distinguishing trait between a leader and a follower. In the aviation industry, innovative composites in turbo fan engine design have separated the leaders from the followers.

Let’s briefly examine how aero composites in fan blades have revolutionized aviation, as shown in GE’s commercial airline engines.

The Challenges of Aircraft Innovation

Aviation engineers are always looking for ways to lighten a plane and lessen the stress on its engines. Composite fan blades have earned their place in aviation history. They can dramatically reduce the weight of the engine and increase the engine’s efficiency.


The ratio of strength to weight among composites is an improvement over traditional materials. This advancement has allowed composite fan blades to weigh less.

The difference is so significant that the GEnx lost over 350 pounds from each engine by using carbon fiber material. The weight loss is despite the GEnx fan blades being a massive 134 inches in diameter. That’s six inches larger than the previous incarnation.


Composites can achieve tighter tolerances during manufacturing to give the engine better performance. A primary reason for the superior efficiency of composite fan blades is the material’s forgiving nature.

Composites allow for a wider range of shapes and curvatures. Designers can create more aerodynamically capable contours than were available with old-school metals.

The increased efficiency has made it possible to reduce the number of aircraft components. In particular, aircraft now need fewer engine fan blades.

For example, the GE90 engine used 22 blades. The improved GEnx only needed 18. The fourth-generation blades in the GE9X number just 16.

Composites not only improved upon pure metals. They have continued to improve on themselves.

Manufacturers continue to find ways to improve the composite materials. The result has been more efficient engine parts. For example, blades have become thinner thanks to the gains made in composite material manufacturing.

But if engineers need thick blades, they can still use composites. Despite their thickness, they still represent a weight loss compared to traditional metals.


An area of great concern for engineers is durability. Could composites withstand the rigors of flight?

Sustainable engines have to encounter and survive hailstorms, rocks, and birds, either of which can down a plane. In fact, it’s estimated that a two-pound bird striking a turbo engine hits it with the impact equivalent of 1500 pounds.


Durability becomes a pressing issue each time a new design increases the output of a new turbo fan. That’s why the GE9X blades use a trailing edge made of glass fiber. The composite does a better job of absorbing impacts without endangering the operation of the engine.

Manufacturing Aero Composites

Like GE, SMI Composites believes in aero composites. That’s why we offer a full range of manufacturing options.

Do you need autoclave curing, out of autoclave curing, bladder molding, cast molding, or compression molding? Perhaps, you need composite production tooling.

Whatever your circumstances, contact SMI Composites to discuss your company’s needs.

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