They Make Good Things for Flying

GE's turbofans have become the most popular engines in the sky

For all its industrial might, General Electric was treated like a pip-squeak when it first entered the macho business of building commercial-jet engines. Two decades ago, when a GE representative tried to sell a new engine to Donald Nyrop, then president of Northwest Airlines, the executive pointed to a ceiling fixture and wisecracked, "Whenever I want a light bulb, I'll pick GE's. For jet engines, I'll stick with Pratt & Whitney!" Nearly all jet airliners built at that time, notably the long-range Boeing 707 and shorter- haul McDonnell Douglas DC-9, were powered by engines carrying Pratt & Whitney's eagle emblem. GE,...

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