In the early 1970s, engineers at the Czech aviation firm Walter started building the Rocky Balboa of propeller engines. They had in mind a tough and sturdy machine with “high resistance” to “climactic and human factors” and “low maintenance.” It made sense. Walter’s customers were Russian airlines in need of a rugged engine that could serve remote Siberian airstrips with few skilled mechanics. But the Czech team did better than that. They built an engine that worked well in icy Siberia as well as in Africa’s desert heat.
When GE bought Walter in 2008, the company had sold 1,500 engines to customers in 50 countries on six continents. But the business was stagnating. Walter had a great product, but the company needed new technology and capital to innovate and grow.
GE sent teams of aviation engineers from Ohio and Massachusetts to work with Walter’s Czech engineers in Prague. They applied U.S. know-how, advanced materials and 3-D aerodynamic design techniques to slim down and rebuild the aging engine.
The result is a new GE turboprop called H80, which took a maiden flight in 2010. It’s lighter and even more powerful than its older sibling. It requires only a short takeoff distance, which makes it perfect for small commuter and agricultural planes, does not need hot section inspections, and contains a number of other unique features that set it apart from the competition.
GE has already lined up a slew of U.S. and European customers, including the U.S.-manufactured Thrush 510G crop duster. The H80-powered Trush needs less than 1,400 feet for takeoff and can fly as low as 15 feet, just five feet above a cornfield.
GE currently plans to grow the production of the H80 from 50 engines per year in 2012 to 150 engines in 2015. GE has also rolled out two new related engines at the 2012 AirVenture Show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, currently under way. In our video, pilot Terry Humphrey takes a Thrush for a spin. Take a look and enjoy the ride.