We hear a lot about turbofan engine research, in such things as unducted fans, open-rotor designs and geared turbofans. Where is rotorcraft engine technology headed?
Helicopters take a lot of power on takeoff and use a lot less in cruise, which means that a helicopter is forced to carry a much bigger engine than it needs at cruise. So the basic question is, how do you design a powerplant that can accommodate both? That’s the big difference between turboshaft engines and turbofan engines.
Don’t airplanes also typically take off at full power and cruise at lower power settings?
Yes, they do. But when you look at turbofans cruising at 30,000 feet, for example, you are pushing the engine thermodynamically almost as hard as at takeoff. You’re running the engine at the same kind of pressure ratios and Mach numbers of the air around the compressor and turbine, so the efficiencies are pretty much what they are at takeoff. Actually, at takeoff they are a little worse than at cruise. What makes the helicopter world unique is big takeoff power and much smaller cruise powers.
So what are engine manufacturers doing to improve turboshaft engines?
We’re concentrating our efforts on engines that feel big but have the benefits of being small. There are many ways to do this, for example, liquid injection, and the conventional things, such as emissions improvement, reducing the weight and so on.
Aren’t there any “exotic” developments in the works for helicopter engines?
We’re looking at more integration and electric-style engines, how you produce more power. We’re taking some of the work we’ve done for our geared turbofans and next-generation technology family and applying some of those combustion, turbine and weight technologies to the helicopter side. Regarding integration, we’re looking at different ways of splitting where the engine ends and the gearbox starts.
What about alternative fuels?
We have programs with the National Research Council, which is Canada’s NASA, and with research organizations in India and universities in Canada, looking at biofuels. We’re following developments in alternative fuels and looking at compatibility–how to design an engine that runs on several different fuels.
Aircraft engines are obviously long-lead items. How have the last six months been for Pratt & Whitney Canada?
They’ve been tough. Since 2008, we’ve seen a reduction in volume company-wide of about 20 to 25 percent, across all markets. The business jet world is where Pratt Canada took the biggest hit, while the helicopter market has been the least impacted. Helicopters have four big markets and corporate is only about 10 percent. But border patrol, parapublic or paramilitary–whatever you call it–emergency medical services and oil and gas all keep going on, in good times and bad. In 2009, we didn’t see much impact in our light and medium twins, our 200 and PT6 families. In 2010, we expect a slight decline, less than 10 percent.
What’s the status of the engine for the Chinese Z-15 helicopter?
Right now we’re working to make sure it [the PT6C-67C] is a civilly certified engine. We’re working with our customer to get the appropriate paperwork in place to do that.
I’ve read that Turbomeca has offered the Chinese a more powerful version of its Ardiden engine for the Z-15.
There are words in the press to that effect; you would have to ask them. Right now we’re supporting our customer to the best of our ability. We have a contract with the Chinese and we are respecting that contract. If they decide to do something else, they have not told me they are doing anything else.
Do you have orders for engines or just a development contract?
I don’t know how public that is, but we have a development contract for sure. Development contracts are meant to be for production contracts; the goal is to provide production engines eventually. We wouldn’t do a development program just for the sake of a development program.
What effect is your Customer First Center, which opened in 2008 at your headquarters in Montreal, having on your product support?
Customer service sells engines. We have more than 45,000 engines flying with 10,000 different operators in 200 countries around the world. We pride ourselves in our ranking in the various industry surveys. [P&WC’s turboshaft engines have ranked high in the AIN Product Support Surveys, though not always on top.] The Customer First Center has taken us from a help desk, where we handled calls, to a center, where we handle activities or events–everything for the customer in one place–and follow up on our actions. Our metrics are better; return-to-service, for example, is within 24 hours, assuming it’s not an engine change. We’re getting better marks from customers in our internal surveys with regards to responsiveness and ease of doing business with us, which are key. Some 90 percent of our customers own two aircraft or less, so we need to be flexible and help these people, while also taking care of our big customers.