Hartzell Propeller is marking its 100th anniversary this year and kicked off the century with a reception at Aero Friedrichshafen in April, followed in July by the fifth annual Props and Hops party at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, where “900 people celebrated our 100th with some hops on us,” according to executive v-p JJ Frigge.
Hartzell’s business tends to track closely with GAMA members’ shipments. During the first half of this year, prop shipments were “basically flat” and on par with the same period last year. “Pistons are up a couple of points, turboprops down a point, so for us the market continues to be flat, which is what we’ve seen for the past couple of years. We win when we bring innovation to the market, and for us that’s contingent on our carbon-fiber propellers.”
This year at AirVenture, Texas Turbines announced it had received an STC for a four-blade Hartzell composite prop for the Supervan 900, a Caravan conversion that replaces the standard PT6A with a Garrett TPE331 turning the new Hartzell prop.
“We’ve been working with Raisbeck [Engineering] for 30 years on what it calls power props and swept props, metal props for King Airs for more performance and less noise,” said Frigge. More recently Hartzell and Raisbeck have been developing a composite swept five-blade variant, and on September 26, Raisbeck received an FAA STC for this prop to be installed on the King Air 350. Hartzell (Booth C7812) and Raisbeck (Booth C11812) are both showing the 106-inch-diameter propeller here at the convention. Hartzell designed and manufactures the props, and Raisbeck flight-tested them for the STC and will install them through dealers. “The new composite propellers provide strong performance gains in takeoff distance, time to climb and cruise speed,” said Frigge, “and they come with an enhanced three-year, 3,000-hour warranty.”
“The new five-blade swept propellers replace the standard Hartzell four-blade aluminum propellers on the King Air 350 fleet,” said Raisbeck Engineering vice president of sales and marketing Lynn Thomas. The mod cuts noise, shaves nearly 50 pounds off the empty weight of the aircraft, improves takeoff acceleration and single-engine climb performance, and the blades have unlimited life, according to Thomas.
The Future Is Composite
At HQ in Piqua, Ohio, Hartzell has “a dozen other composite programs in the works, all the way from the heavy-horsepower side of the GA market down to the very light 100-hp side as well. Two to five blades, 100 hp to 1,800 shp, we’re working on a whole host of composite programs in that ballpark,” said Frigge. Composite props account for 40 percent of Hartzell’s shipments now, with the remaining 60 percent still metal, but just five years ago metal accounted for 90 percent. “We make 12,000 propeller blades a year (metal and composite), but there has been a significant shift. This will continue, and we’re investing in our composite technology and manufacturing processes to make sure we’re best in class for quality and performance.”
Before the financial crash of 2008, Hartzell was shipping 5,000 propellers a year; since then the tally has been in the range of 3,000 propellers per year, a decline of 40 percent. About half of propeller production goes to OEMs for new aircraft, and the other half is replacement props, blades and parts during overhaul.
Where’s the company headed in the next five years? “If you believe the GAMA forward-looking trend, it says flat to slightly down in terms of new-aircraft shipments. I would tend to agree with that, and that’s what we’re planning for. But companies making turboprop- and piston-powered aircraft continue to invest heavily. Cirrus is investing in new technology with new programs. Look at what Daher is doing with the TBM and Pilatus with the PC-12, and Piper across the M class as well as the smaller trainers. Everyone is still investing quite rigorously, so while the market will probably be flat, the innovations and investment create some room for optimism. For example, Pilatus redid the PC-12 a couple of years ago—cleaned up the fuselage a bit, added the five-blade composite prop and gained five knots—and demand is quite strong now for the PC-12NG. The overall turboprop market is not growing, but there are clear winners and losers within the market, and it’s usually tied to who’s got the latest and greatest technology.”
The other active players in the prop market are McCauley, long a division of Cessna, now owned by Textron; Sensenich, in business since 1932 and purchased by a management buyout in 1995; and Germany’s MT (founded in 1981 by Gerd Muehlbauer).
Frigge declines to quote Hartzell’s market share because “there are different ways to look at it and you can use that data however you want sometimes. But we like to believe we’re the market leader from a share standpoint.” Of Muehlbauer, Frigge observed: “In recent years MT has rounded out its product line to include five-bladers for a lot of turboprops. Muehlbauer is not using the same technology we use: he calls it a natural composite, and it’s a laid-up block of wood routed into an airfoil shape with one or sometimes two layers of glass or carbon for moisture protection. It’s not a true structural composite; it’s a wood-core blade. Ten or 15 years ago, I would have said MT was a specialty outfit, but it has grown quite rapidly working with modifiers and STC houses as well as pursuing STCs itself.
“Our structural composites are manufactured to be as strong as aluminum, which means we can have thin airfoils with a wide chord, which really improves performance and overall efficiency. We can typically outperform MT because wood is not as strong [thickness for thickness] as the carbon fiber we use.”
Employment at Hartzell remains relatively flat at 250 people. Thirty years ago the company had about the same number of people “but with only about a third of the revenue,” noted Frigge. “We’ve been able to hold our manpower flat with automation and robotics and expand our top line in both props and dollars while maintaining about the same number of employees.” All Hartzell propellers are still made in Piqua, Ohio, and all material is sourced in the U.S.
The company is following the emerging hybrid electric power market “because there is so much money being invested in it right now. It’s hard to know which form of that technology is going to win out, but we’re working with quite a few different folks and businesses to make sure we’re on the leading edge and positioned to produce a prop that’s compatible with the system, whether it’s the Uber Elevate guys or some of the other VTOL folks who are looking at short-haul city-to-city commuters.”
Hartzell also sees potential for growth in trainers creating pilots to satisfy Asian markets. “We think Piper, Cessna and Cirrus are poised for some nice growth in this market, and we want to make sure we have props for that lighter side.”