Hartzell Propeller Sees New Opportunities through Expansion of Product Line

 - October 22, 2013, 12:30 AM
Hartzell’s swept-airfoil composite prop, recently approved for the TBM 700/850.

Hartzell Propeller (Booth No. C7630) has witnessed the market for its aluminum–and, increasingly, carbon-composite–propeller blades and assemblies change markedly over the past five years as the global aviation industry continues a long and deliberate rebound from the recent global economic downturn. While it would be a stretch to say the shift was a welcome one for the Piqua, Ohio-based company, Hartzell executive vice president J.J. Frigge seems invigorated by the path his company has taken in the years since.

“This has been an extremely exciting year for Hartzell Prop,” Frigge told AIN. “Our domestic sales have been solid, and we’re growing our international business and going after foreign validations across all platforms.”

A key part of that effort, Frigge added, was the creation this year of a dedicated department for international approvals throughout the Hartzell product line of constant-speed, variable-pitch propellers for both piston and turboprop general aviation aircraft applications. The company has also focused on broadening the number of applications for its “advanced swept-airfoil” propellers, with the third of three anticipated certification announcements–for the King Air C90–expected by the end of the year. That follows the early October receipt of FAA and EASA approval for its five-blade, carbon-composite prop on the Daher-Socata TBM 700/850, which the company claims improves climb performance and results in a five-knot increase in cruise speed over competing wood-based prop blades. The company announced similar certification for the Beechcraft King Air 200 in January.

Hartzell’s two newest swept-blade propellers for turboprops are on exhibit at the NBAA show this year. A single-engine TBM 700 equipped with Hartzell’s advanced structural composite five-blade swept propeller will be on static display at the Hartzell space at Henderson Executive Airport throughout the show, along with a King Air 200 featuring four-blade swept aluminum Hartzell props, developed for Raisbeck Engineering, at that company’s display.

Hartzell has also expanded into lower-speed applications to broaden its market, most notably in the Bantam series of composite propellers for small manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

“While we’ve adapted as necessary to these new conditions, our overall strategy hasn’t changed much since the market collapse,” Frigge said. “Hartzell strives to win every new OEM program. We made the decision to continue investment in those programs, even when there weren’t many new OEM programs out there, as well as serve the existing customer base. We still stock blades and parts for most legacy props, and we’ve made inroads with our Top Prop conversion program as well.

“We’re at the beginning stages of recovery,” he added. “Any improvement we’ve seen so far has been pretty modest, though we have more projects in the works now than we’ve ever had before. Our R&D and engineering staff is jammed with project work, so it’s evident that OEMs are becoming more bullish in bringing new designs to market.”

Frigge is quick to add that does not mean the company has not felt some impact from the economic downturn. “We’ve experienced similar headwinds that OEMs have seen, thanks in part to a huge inflow of used aircraft on the market,” he noted. “Owners looking to maintain their older planes are replacing a blade or two in order to squeeze one more inspection cycle, rather than investing in a complete blade replacement. We’ve also seen a softening in the aftermarket, since dollars are tight.”

When asked to look towards the next significant advancement in propeller technology, Frigge readily admits he does not know what the next wave will look like, though continued development will be key. “I definitely believe we will continue to optimize performance,” he added. “The materials in our stable now are better than anyone else’s in the industry, and that allows us to cater each propeller specifically for the most important aspects for each application.”

The NBAA show offers Hartzell an important opportunity for the company to meet with its customers from across the globe. “Here in Las Vegas, we may connect with our OEMs and make sure we’re showcasing our latest and greatest technologies,” Frigge added. “Having everyone in one central location for the week allows us to conduct working meetings with our OEMs, as just one more step to ensure our shared projects continue moving forward.

“When it comes to our newest offerings on the latest in certified aircraft, we don’t want to be the one holding up the process,” Frigge concluded.