From motorcycles to planes: how transformed the Czech engine manufacturer

От мотоциклов к самолетам: как преобразился чешский производитель двигателей

What connects the motorcycles and planes? In Prague, you certainly will immediately answer this question, calling the factory Josef Walter, who also produced the engines for motorcycles, and airplanes. After several UPS and downs, which was over 100-year history, the plant has received investment and is preparing to launch serial production of a new turboprop engine.

In the following, 2021 American company GE Aviation (part of the holding of General Electric) plans to complete certification of a new type of turboprop engine GE Catalyst for aircraft General purpose. The novelty was developed using several innovations, including 3D printing. The engine is equipped with a digital control system that will allow us to equip the aircraft with a remote control. He will be able to develop greater cruising speed than the current counterparts, while saving up to 15-20% of fuel, say the developers.

A certified engine will be launched into serial production at the facilities of GE Aviation Czech, the Czech division of the American holding. In addition to production, the Czechs also took part in trials of a new engine in 2018 – 2019, researchers from the Czech technical University in Prague, tested the GE Catalyst for a number of indicators. It is expected that this spring the motor will lift in air the first plane.

Although testing and certification is not yet complete, GE Aviation has already found two customers: this engine is going to put on their new Cessna Denali and XTI TriFan 600 American company Textron Aviation and XTI Aircraft Company. This means that the plant in Prague is employed. But 20 years, the company with centenary history was on the verge of closing. What has changed and how the factory managed to get out from the financial and production problems? Delve into the history of GE Aviation Czech, which until 2008 was known under the names J. Walter a spol., Motorlet and Walter Engines.

Motorcycles, cars, buses…

In 1898 Prague craftsman Josef Walter began in a rented workshop to repair bicycles, and then began to produce them. He married the daughter of a wealthy tinsmith, he was able to rent a new workshop with electricity already. And most importantly – Josef engaged in a new development – a motorcycle. The first instance of Walter Typ A with a single-cylinder engine with a displacement of 299 CC and a power of 2 HP, appeared in 1902, three years after it was launched serial production.

In 1910, Walther introduced the quadruple tricycle Walter Typ C4 three-wheeled motorcycle that resembles a wagon without horses, with a volume of 1020 CC and a power of 7 HP. Joseph sold it to the people with average incomes, who could not afford to buy recently appeared in the sale of cars, organized a tricycle, several promotional tours, and even visited Kiev, where he received fifty orders. For three years, J. Walter a spol. gathered about 900 tricycles. While in 1913 to submit a model Walter W III. Then there was also trucks, buses, passenger cars under license from Italian company Fiat…

In parallel, since 1923, the company started to produce aircraft engines. Starting with Assembly under license of the German designed BMW six-cylinder engines with water cooling, firm J. Walter a spol. developed its range of radial engines from the three-cylinder NZ-45 to nine-NZ-120. Engines are sold not only in Czechoslovakia, but in Poland, Bulgaria, France, Germany, USSR, etc., production of certain models were even established abroad.

During the Second world war under the pressure of the occupation administration Walter was forced to produce and repair German motors. And in 1948 the plant was nationalized and finally focused on aircraft engines and was renamed to Motorlet.

Under this brand, the company was known until the mid 1990-ies. Despite regular perturbations, the plant has found the markets, as the Czech civil and military aircraft were widely exported to the USSR and the Warsaw Pact countries. So, a multi-Let L-410 Turbolet Let Kunovice and training of the Aero L-29 Delfin Aero Vodochody company was equipped with engines from Motorlet – Walter M601 turboprop and jet Walter M701. These two models were especially popular: M601 was released about 4500 pieces, and М701 – more than 9200 pieces. From 1923 to 2008, the Czech plant has produced more than 37 thousand of aircraft engines.

To restart the engine

However, due to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and then the USSR and Czechoslovakia, the Czech aircraft manufacturing company still lost most orders. And Let Kunovice was also forced to suspend the serial production of its new products Let L-610, having managed to collect just 8 units. The engine Motorlet also was unclaimed, and almost 20 years the company was on the brink of existence.

Ten years, the state tried unsuccessfully to find for the plant investor, and to attract him even returned the name of its founder – Walter (2005 – Walter Engines). The most likely buyer was considered the American engine-building concern Pratt & Whitney, but at the last moment the deal fell through. Note that in the list of products Pratt & Whitney is the engine РТ6, very similar in its characteristics with the Walter M601.

In the end, in 2007 the new owner of the Walter Engines was a competitor Pratt & Whitney is a U.S. holding company GE Aviation. Renaming Czech enterprise in GE Aviation Czech, the Americans took for the further development of a number of radical measures.

At that time most of the shops were empty or rented out. The new owners decided to organize the production in the new premises on the North-East of Prague, near the Prague airport. Here, on the territory aircraft company Letov emerged updated Aviacenter, where, in addition to GE Aviation Czech-based Aero Vodochody and aviation Latecoere Czech Republic (manufactures aircraft parts for Airbus). The former is the same area of the factory Josef Walter was built office and residential premises.

In manufacturing facilities in Letnany moved not all of the staff has decreased in the crisis years. American holding closed programs and projects, deciding to continue only the development of the turboprop engines on the basis of the model, the Walter M601, so that the state has reduced from 1,500 to 500 people.

However, the holding company responds to new market conditions, and now staffing needs increase. GE Aviation has decided to continue the development of turboprop engines. Initially we went for a simpler way, using ready models and get the General Electric H80 – essentially, an improved version of the Walter M601. But then the Americans made a bid for new development, and at the end of 2015 announced the development of a turboprop engine. After a year of active negotiations with the government of the Czech Republic, in October 2016, GE Aviation signed an investment agreement. The company intends to invest in the Czech division of $400 million and employ 500 new employees, 100 of whom will be directly involved in the production of engine GE Catalyst.

GE Aviation, which since the purchase has already invested in the Czech “daughter” of over $100 million dollars, the new engine has high hopes. In the next few years will be seen if he can be a catalyst for the development of Czech airlines and infuse it with new life.

In the end, in 2007 the new owner of the Walter Engines was a competitor Pratt & Whitney is a U.S. holding company GE Aviation. Renaming Czech enterprise in GE Aviation Czech, the Americans took for the further development of a number of radical measures.

At that time most of the shops were empty or rented out. The new owners decided to organize the production in the new premises on the North-East of Prague, near the Prague airport. Here, on the territory aircraft company Letov emerged updated Aviacenter, where, in addition to GE Aviation Czech-based Aero Vodochody and aviation Latecoere Czech Republic (manufactures aircraft parts for Airbus). The former is the same area of the factory Josef Walter was built office and residential premises.

In manufacturing facilities in Letnany moved not all of the staff has decreased in the crisis years. American holding closed programs and projects, deciding to continue only the development of the turboprop engines on the basis of the model, the Walter M601, so that the state has reduced from 1,500 to 500 people.

However, the holding company responds to new market conditions, and now staffing needs increase. GE Aviation has decided to continue the development of turboprop engines. Initially we went for a simpler way, using ready models and get the General Electric H80 – essentially, an improved version of the Walter M601. But then the Americans made a bid for new development, and at the end of 2015 announced the development of a turboprop engine. After a year of active negotiations with the government of the Czech Republic, in October 2016, GE Aviation signed an investment agreement. The company intends to invest in the Czech division of $400 million and employ 500 new employees, 100 of whom will be directly involved in the production of engine GE Catalyst.

GE Aviation, which since the purchase has already invested in the Czech “daughter” of over $100 million dollars, the new engine has high hopes. In the next few years will be seen if he can be a catalyst for the development of Czech airlines and infuse it with new life.

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