In the history of aviation there are certain engines that seem to hit a ‘sweet spot’ in the engineering and aeronautical development life cycle. In Europe the famous French Gnome-Rhone range dominated the First World War, and the Rolls-Royce Merlin powered many of the most famous aircraft (both British and American) of World War II. In the USA, the Liberty L-12 engine of 1917 went on to lasting fame, as did the Pratt & Whitney Wasp series and the Wright Cyclone series during and after World War II.
In the era of jet engines, few have lasted as long, or been as successful, as Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6 turboprop. Aviation Week points out that it first flew in 1961, and will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its certification next year. Tens of thousands have been sold, and the engine continues in full production in a large number of different versions, powering aircraft, helicopters, hovercraft and other vehicles.
The PT6 is a stalwart all over the world. I couldn’t begin to add up the number of miles I’ve flown in aircraft using them, from single-engine bush birds such as the Cessna 208 Caravan and Pilatus PC-6 Porter, to larger twin-engined planes such as the Let L-410 Turbolet, the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter and modernized South African Air Force C-47’s, to military training aircraft such as the Pilatus PC-7 and the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano. In tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of miles I’ve covered behind them, most of it over distinctly inhospitable terrain, those PT6’s haven’t missed a beat – for which I’m devoutly grateful! I have a very soft spot for this engine family.
Congratulations to Pratt & Whitney Canada for what remains a best-selling family of engines. With no obvious successor in sight, I’m willing to bet PT6’s will still be flying in another half-century from now!