The 12 engineers who gathered in 1957 to build the first turbine engine for Pratt & Whitney, and who can be considered the brains behind the PT6, created an engine in two sections that are easily separated for maintenance. The creation of these engineers led to aviation history.
The PT6 first flew on May 30, 1961 as the power for a Beech 18 aircraft in Ontario, Canada. Full-scale production began in 1963, and in December of that year, Pratt & Whitney shipped the first PT6 to Beech Aircraft Company to power their Beech 87, an aircraft that later became the King Air. Experts said that the PT6 was an innovative gas turbine representing significant advances in technology, with great advantages over traditional piston-driven engines. Much of this benefit was due to the higher power to weight ratio the PT6 offered.
In 1967, the Piper PA-31 Navajo first flew using a PT6 engine. Despite enormous success building light aircraft engines since the 1930’s, Piper fought the adoption of turbine engines in their aircraft. Instead, they preferred the more traditional piston-driven engines. This marked an important milestone for Pratt & Whitney who had attempted to get Piper to switch to their turbine engines for many years.
Although the Pratt & Whitney PT6 became the most popular engine for powering high-performance airplanes and helicopters, in its early days an industrial version known as the ST6 appeared in some interesting applications. In 1966, the Thunderbird, a 10-meter boat owned by Jim Wynn, a racing-boat champion, used two ST6 engines. It was one of only two boats out of 31 to complete the Sam Griffith Memorial Race on February 22, 1966, and although it came in first, it was denied official recognition as it was considered experimental. The turbine engine powered Turbo Train was designed to provide passenger service between New York and Boston, and was supposed to be a centerpiece at Expo 67. Unfortunately, it was not completed in time for the Expo, but by 1973, was regularly travelling at speeds of nearly 193 km in the Montreal-Toronto corridor. In 1978, Andy Granatelli, President of STP, installed an ST6 in his custom-made Corvette after it was banned from use in the STP Indy cars by the USAC.
The PT6 not only has a long and colorful history as an aircraft engine, but in powering other types of vehicles as well. Learn more about the PT6 and find out more about the aircraft maintenance services at Covington Aircraft by contacting them online or by phone today.