What's Pratt Up To?

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Aviation companies are a little like people in that they have different personalities. And they’re especially different when it comes to dealing with the press. Some are friendly, forthright and open while others tend toward the cagey. I’d put Pratt & Whitney in that second category, almost to the point of detachment.

During Monday’s press day, I attended a lunch briefing Pratt held as a kind of how-goes-it for its various engine products. I was trying to remember the last time I attended such a thing by Pratt and I think the answer was never. Frankly, it’s not a great format when you’re trying to simultaneously take notes and munch on braised chicken. Fortunately, in a convention already populated with vague, often content-free press conferences, Pratt was in good company. Not much to report.

But sometimes I sit in these briefings as slides flash by and bullet points scroll like ticker tape and I hear something that I think I should know about it and wonder if everyone else in the room already does. This time it was something described as a 2000-horsepower engine. Vague specs were shown, design goals hazily discussed and the briefer moved on. During the Q&A, I vowed to confess my ignorance, but someone else beat me to it: What is this thing? Is it a new dash number for the PT-6? A clean sheet? A free-turbine? A geared turboshaft? The briefer wasn’t specific enough to discern it as anything but perhaps a somewhat hurried response to GE’s new ATP turboprop announced two years ago. As a measure of its seriousness in taking on Pratt, GE brought along a launch customer, Cessna’s new single-engine Denali turboprop.

Industrial espionage being what it is, I doubt if Pratt was caught completely flat footed by GE’s sudden incursion into its heretofore private PT-6 backyard. But knowing about it and responding aren’t the same thing. Pratt certainly should have been aware that the PT-6 idea, although a long-established success, was getting long in the tooth and that the market was probably overdue for something new. GE saw the opportunity and has invested $1.5 billion since 2008 in carving out a share of what Pratt owns. Being the would-be challenger, GE is yin to Pratt’s yang and is more than happy to talk about some of the details of its new engine and did exactly that in a press briefing later in the day. Just two years after its announcement, GE is about to run a conforming prototype. That’s quick work and GE aims to apply what it learns in the ATP project to its H-series engines which are direct competitors to the PT-6. In its briefing, Pratt & Whitney said it just passed 100,000 engines delivered, which is an impressive installed base. All the same, I wouldn’t want GE breathing down my neck, thanks very much.

Vegas is Vegas

This being a blog about aviation, I wouldn’t normally mention what I’m about to, but I was asked about it and I’m sure I will be again. With the horrific shooting last weekend, what’s it like here? Not that I’ve been doing man-in-the-street interviews, but Las Vegas is a city built on distractions and, on the surface at least, it’s as resilient as any other American city.

Tapping the mood via Uber drivers, one asked me if NBAA considered cancelling the convention or if I considered not coming. To the first, I’d answer probably not, to the second, even though I may not have wanted to come, I couldn’t see a reason not to. I have no inkling why a person would arm himself and murder dozens of innocent people, but my declining to come here neither honors the dead nor comforts the survivors. I live in the same world as everyone else, I accept the consequences of whatever risk that entails and I refuse to be cowed by it.

But beneath the veneer of normalcy, there’s profound pain. A second Uber driver I rode with spent the night ferrying panicked people around the city and lost count of how many trips he made. His sister, a trauma nurse in the hospital closest to the shooting who was herself traumatized, left town and he hasn’t heard from her. We can only hope that he does. All the rest of us can do is carry on.

Comments (6)

We've been playing with additive manufacturing (nee stereolithography) for 30 years. GE seems to think that the technology is ready for prime time. If it is, we could see a five-fold decrease in manufacturing cost, and a doubling of performance, of turbine engines. This would be reminiscent of the respective developments and widespread adoptions of personal computers and CNC machine tools. Brave New World.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | October 10, 2017 3:30 AM    Report this comment

2,000 HP -- that is getting big for GA, especially if it is a turbo-prop...
Maybe they have found some magic to make propellers quiet.

Posted by: John Patson | October 10, 2017 7:30 AM    Report this comment

"We've been playing with additive manufacturing (nee stereolithography) for 30 years. GE seems to think that the technology is ready for prime time."

This is probably a case of "let's wait for someone else to have success for it before trying it ourselves". If GE is successful, I think you're right about decreased manufacturing costs.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 10, 2017 7:41 AM    Report this comment

Keep in mind that turboprop engines are typically scalable. I suspect this engine is "up to 2000 HP." The ATP is 850 to 1600 HP and I suspect GE has head room to go higher. That puts it in the sweet spot of the PT-6 market.

At, say, 1500 HP, an engine like that could offer a nice variant upgrade to the 1200 HP used in the PC-12, especially if it delivers the power for little cost in additional fuel and doesn't have the hot section inspections of the PT-6. It could reshape the market. Interesting times.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 10, 2017 8:06 AM    Report this comment

In my previous gig as a gas turbine analyst I'd asked the program reps at Pratt Canada when the PT6A would get a major revision seeing as its architecture was quite long in the tooth. I'd read the PW600 core might form the basis for a next-gen PT6A but that never happened. Pratt was reportedly developing FADEC in-house for the engine but there's no mention of it on their site. They're very adept at combining different gas generators and gearboxes to come up with new variants, but the core design is essentially unchanged. I guess when you own the t-prop segment for decades it's easy to get complacent.

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | October 10, 2017 10:07 AM    Report this comment

The incredible reliability of the proven turbine designs sets such a high bar that it works against innovation and the inevitable, and painful, teething problems that come with it. Fortunately, the double-digit percentage improvements being bandied about will mitigate a lot of pain. Wish 'em well!

Posted by: John Wilson | October 10, 2017 10:51 AM    Report this comment

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