Sunday, 20 July 2014

Turbo-props

This article niggled me enough to do some research to back up my recollections of travelling on a type of plane which was once seen as the future of air travel. In particular, writer Mark Leftly states that "turboprops are only built for short distances" and "one had to shout to be heard by the person sitting next to [one]". During the research, I found his statement that there were only two manufacturers of the type left was also in error: to Bombardier and BAE/ATP (builder of the ATR 600, the focus of the article) one should add Lockheed.

There is a history of turboprops here. One learns that though "it was a little-known Hungarian named Gy├Ârgy Jendrassik who sired the first true turboprop engine, designated the Cs1, in 1938", it was British company Rolls-Royce who made the engine a viable proposition and British airframe companies Vickers and Bristol who produced the first successful planes.

It was the Viscount of which I had happy memories. The passenger compartment was quiet, quieter than many of today's trains, and certainly a relief after the piston-powered Viking and Dakota which came before.

Bristol produced the Britannia, not just the military version celebrated here, but also seen as a medium- to long-haul passenger plane.  The type actually inspired the change of name of the former Euravia to the better-known Britannia Airlines when the company acquired its first Britannia.

Turboprop airline operation suffered a setback with a large fall in the price of  oil, making the faster turbojets a more attractive proposition. However, with the price of fuel creeping up again, and the need to replace some ageing short- and medium-haul, the type looks to be making a come-back. Although Pratt & Whitney power most of the new passenger models, Rolls-Royce is still involved since its acquisition of Allison.

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