The first jet engine for Boeing's 787 is taking shape at Rolls-Royce's factory in England, the apex of British engineering prowess. But five years from...

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The first jet engine for Boeing’s 787 is taking shape at Rolls-Royce’s factory in England, the apex of British engineering prowess. But five years from now, many of those engines could bear the label “Made in the USA.”


The engine maker wants to back up its production plant in England with a second factory, and the United States is strongly favored as a location, Phil Hopton, Rolls-Royce vice president of Seattle operations, said in an interview.


In addition to manufacturing Trent 1000 aircraft engines for the 787, such a factory would make ship and power-plant engines, he said.


Gov. Christine Gregoire met with Rolls-Royce Chief Operating Officer John Cheffins at the Paris Air Show in June, presenting the case for Washington state as a site. Gregoire was the first governor to pitch directly to the company for the factory, she said in an interview Monday.


The governor said the state expects a formal request for proposals from Rolls-Royce soon.


“We’re ready. We’ve already done much of the work in anticipation,” she said. “We think we’ve got a shot.”


Modern jet engines are among the most beautifully intricate pieces of machinery ever built.



The Rolls-Royce 787 Engine


The Trent 1000


Engine thrust: From 53,200 pounds on the short-range 787-3, to 74,000 pounds on the long-range 787-9.


List price: $12 million each for the lowest-thrust engines; $18 million each for the highest-thrust engines. List prices are negotiable.


Dimensions: Fan diameter, 112 inches; length, 152 inches; weight, 11,900 pounds


Stress endurance: The force on a fan blade at takeoff is equivalent to a load of almost 220,000 pounds, equivalent to hanging a Boeing 757 on each blade.


Innovation: These are Rolls-Royce’s first “bleedless” aircraft engines. Rather than drawing air from the engine’s core to drive aircraft systems, electric power will be produced by a generator linked to the engine — making the 787 a more electric aircraft.


Source: Rolls-Royce


The tips of the fan blades move at 1,000 miles per hour, and temperatures inside the engine reach 3,632 degrees Fahrenheit. Hopton said that at a new plant, aircraft-engine assembly would employ about 100 people in highly skilled aerospace engineer and technician jobs.


The number of additional jobs in manufacturing marine and energy-sector engines is still under review. Rolls-Royce engine design will remain in the U.K. even if a second plant is built.


A decision on whether to locate the plant in the U.S. will be made next year, and the plan is to start operations at the new facility as 787 production ramps up, Hopton said.


“It would certainly be coming onstream by 2010,” Hopton said.


In Paris, Gregoire argued that building the engine close to the 787 assembly plant would save transportation costs and mesh with Boeing’s superfast production plan. In addition, Rolls-Royce could tap the state’s aerospace tax incentives that were put in place to win 787 assembly for Washington.


But Rolls-Royce will ask the states to compete for the location, just as Boeing did before selecting Everett for final assembly.


“We want the competition,” Hopton said. “It’s no secret the different states bring different things to the party.”


A key reason for looking to the U.S., Hopton said, is to balance the effect of currency shifts. Rolls-Royce prices its engines in U.S. dollars, as do all aerospace companies globally, while many of its costs are in British pounds. The steady rise of the pound against the dollar eats into profits and requires complex currency-hedging deals.


“Moving more of our cost base into dollars makes eminent sense for us,” Hopton said.


Factors that could be taken into account in selecting which state will win the plant include labor rates, proximity to Boeing, better logistics and avoidance of tropical storms such as Hurricane Katrina, he said.


A Rolls-Royce spokeswoman said the company has held general discussions with several states but no formal talks with any.


In addition to its aircraft-engine business, Rolls-Royce makes ship engines and gas turbine-based generating equipment for the energy sector.


Those businesses “are all in a growth phase,” Hopton said.


Hopton said military aircraft-engine work is less likely for the new factory, though it hasn’t been ruled out.


Rolls-Royce already has a facility in Indianapolis that does big Department of Defense jet-engine projects, in addition to producing jet engines for the smaller Embraer regional jets and Citation business jets.


The global headquarters for Rolls-Royce’s energy business is in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and the company has major ship propulsion manufacturing plants in Massachusetts, Maryland and Mississippi. Rolls-Royce has some 6,200 U.S. and 1,600 Canadian employees.


Trent 1000 engine parts are supplied by a global network of partners that includes Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (turbine blades) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (compressor module) of Japan; and Goodrich (engine-control system) and Hamilton Sundstrand (gearbox) of the United States.


Assembly of the first fuel-efficient 787 engine got under way in Derby, England, just last week. Each engine has a list price of $12 million to $18 million, depending on which 787 variant it powers.


Eight 787 engines will be built purely for ground tests and nine more for flight tests. The first flying engine is to be shipped in January 2007.


But the next big program milestone is less than four months away. On Valentine’s Day 2006, company engineers in Derby are due to start up the first 787 engine.


Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com