Today, thanks to GE Aviation, the Czech Republic belongs to that refined group of seven countries that develop, manufacture and export aircraft engines. Not only that – following an agreement with the Czech Government in 2016, a global headquarters for turboprop engines is being established in the Czech Republic, from which the GE Catalyst, modern aircraft engine of an unprecedented design will be shipped to global markets. But how far back do the roots of Czech turboprop engines go?
GE Aviation Czech, a member of American GE Aviation, is not a newcomer in the area of turboprop engines. Long before launching the development of the GE Catalyst, its most advanced machine, the company launched another turboprop engine. In 2011, the upgraded version of the Walter M601 engine, named H GE Aviation, was certified.
It has been used in several types of aircraft, such as the Czech Let L-410 and the American Trush. Moreover, it is suitable for flying in extreme conditions on six continents. The company has invested $100 million in the M601 engine upgrade, and today, the H series accounts for a large part of its production. “The H-Series engine has been used by many customers. However, it was not a completely new, clean sheet engine,” said Milan Šlapák, Director of the Advanced Turboprop (ATP) project last year. It is the Catalyst that has been prepared from scratch, an investment worth nearly $400 million.
However, the revolutionary GE Catalyst might have never been invented if it had not been for Walter (later re-named to Motorlet) often called Waltrovka in the Czech Republic, a company which is no longer in existence. This engineering company founded in 1911 produced motorcycles, motor tricycles, automobiles, and later aircraft engines. During its existence, the company produced 4,512 turboprop engines, and from 1923 to 2008, an impressive 37,000 aircraft engines of various types saw the light of day. In 2008, GE Aviation purchased the company assets from FF Invest, and soon started an upgrade based on the M601 engine, which resulted in the afore-mentioned GE Aviation H Series engine.
TRADITION CONTINUES IN A MODERN CONCEPT
In the course of 97 years of persistent work, Walter developed a range of propulsion systems that were well received in Czechoslovakia and beyond; the first memorable event for the company was the launch of the Walter NZ-60 engine, designed for sports and training aircraft. However, the development of the turboprop M601 resulted in an even greater glory for Waltrovka, and significantly enhanced the reputation of the Czechoslovak aviation industry. Its certification began in 1971 and two years later it was put into operation. While the M601 was used in the Let L-410, the younger M602 version was used in the Let L-610 transport aircraft. At that time, no one could assume that for decades to come, this would be the last certification of a Czech engine designed for general and commercial air transport. The GE Catalyst thus is the first brand new turboprop engine developed in the Czech Republic in 40 years. That is one of the reasons why GE Aviation is investing so much hope and effort into this product.
Today, GE Aviation Czech is developing the idea of improving turboprop engines introduced by Walter in the 1960s and 1970s. Also thanks to this tradition the Czech Republic is an industry leader – GE Aviation management did not choose to build a new headquarters in the heart of Europe by accident. In addition, the reputation of Czech engineers is aided by their cooperation with the Czech Technical University in Prague (CVUT), as described in detail by Milan Šlapák in his interview for Aerospace Magazine.
Although some of the traditional practices remain, the revolutionary Catalyst engine is in many ways completely different from its predecessors. For example, it works on a fully digital basis and some parts are printed on a 3D printer. “There is no similar engine in the small and medium-size aviation segment. This is why the GE Catalyst is so ground-breaking and revolutionary,” Milan Šlapák said earlier. The GE Catalyst certification process is due to be completed in 2020, and the engine should be installed in, for example, Textron Aviation’s Cesna Denali.
FROM NZ-60 TO CATALYST
1923 Walter introduced Walter NZ-60 aircraft engine, the first Czechoslovak design.
1936 Walter engines serve in air fleets of 13 countries and are used in 21 countries.
1961 The first Czechoslovak jet engine M701, which powered the AERO L-29 Dolphin aircraft.
1971 Development of the M601 turboprop engine launched, commissioned with the L-410.
2008 American GE Aviation acquired a stake in Walter
2011 Based on the Walter M601 engine, GE Aviation Czech built a new GE H turboprop engine that was EASA certified and took off with the L-410.
2016 GE Aviation Czech in Letňany becomes the turboprop engine headquarters of American GE Aviation. The company signs an investment contract with the Czech government to build a development, research and production centre for the most advanced GE Catalyst turboprop engine.
2018 GE Aviation Czech is the only subsidiary of American GE Aviation outside the US to develop, manufacture, certify and export aircraft engines. In total, over one hundred million dollars have been invested in the modernisation of the production facility in Letňany and in the GE H programme.
Text: Martin Schwarz