Propellers at 12 stars

(To Yari Bovalino)
17/10/19

At first glance, the MT Propeller headquarters, located on the edge of the small Straubing-Wallmuehle airport in the verdant Bavarian town of Atting, offer a special glance already from the first floor of the building where the general management and engineering reside . Yes, because the entire corridor on the right runs along offices and meeting rooms, on the left it faces the assembly shop on the ground floor. Bright, impeccably tidy and quite attractive with propellers for aircraft subjected to the latest assembly and testing operations.

An environment that, from the first moment, conveys the idea that one is not only faced with a typical, efficient German company: it requires much more. This impression is confirmed, in fact, as soon as the history of the company itself is known: born in the 1981 by pioneer Gerd Muehlbauer, aviator and expert builder and maintainer of propellers of all kinds, at the time occupied 6 people and was housed in a single building .

Today, MT Propeller is the first European company that designs and builds propellers from 2 to 5 blades (but was able to first successfully produce and test 7 or 9 blades propellers) and is the second in the world. It occupies a total of 220 people and presents over 25 thousand propeller systems, with around 280 different models of shovels (FAA and EASA certified), operating in flight on the most disparate types of aircraft but also of hovercraft.

That first building now houses the fascinating headquarters and over the years another four buildings have been added in which production, service and maintenance, logistics and research take place, while a sixth is currently under construction. Furthermore, the company is now organized into three business divisions, in the 1999 it acquired Avia Propeller, a Czech manufacturer that is headquartered right in front of GE Aviation Czech (where GE Catalyst is assembled and tested), and has a headquarters for the service also in DeLand in Florida (USA).

The dynamism of MT Propeller is perfectly personified in his Vice President and General Manager, Martin Albrecht. A graduate in mechanical engineering, Albrecht has always been passionate about aviation, has an experimental pilot's license and a civil pilot's license, has been six times national acrobatic flight champion and has built three autonomous aircraft on his own. "In the company we have three test pilots who are three designers of our engineering" he says proudly introducing Tina, an aeronautical engineer and experimental pilot who designs propellers.

"We study all aspects of the propeller: the materials, the wear to which it is subjected with the blades, their shape and size in order to improve and evolve the product from time to time" explains brandishing a huge shovel of a hovercraft, are the largest propellers from 3.5 meters in diameter "A little over ten years ago, when I started, we produced around 750 blades a year, today we build about 6500, about thirty a day".

At the heart of the philosophy, and success, of Albrecht and his team is a total devotion to the engineering and design of these objects, which fits perfectly with the unique production process of its kind, because it combines the craftsmanship of the first component that has made it possible to fly for man (the propeller) with technological innovation. “Our propellers all have a wooden core, but they are capable of better performance than metal ones: for example, one of our 5 blade propellers weighs like an 3 metal one, but reduces vibration and noise from 30 to 50% " says Albrecth. "It depends on the number of blades and how the weight is distributed in them, we tend to concentrate it more on the base, the one that attaches to the hub", in MT Propeller the complete propeller system is produced, with the hub (ie the central hub, available in 34 models and made from forged aluminum), its interior, the central cone and the control systems

The MT Propeller production process is the next show to be attended in this corner of Bavaria. Entering the production building, one immediately has the impression of being in one of those Scandinavian wood factories, in which appealing design objects take shape. Perhaps because the high ceilings, the smell of wood and the cottage-like shapes of the building influence, but in there come lots of beech and fir wood that are prepared in boards ready to be carved like shovels, passing first by controll in machines. of MRI, identical to those of hospitals.

The MT Propeller blades are therefore made of natural composite material, beech wood is fortified at the base by the fir with which it is joined, dark veins can be observed that rise thinning along the rest of the very light colored wooden surface. This core material of the propeller, through subsequent processes and processes, is coated with carbon fibers or composite materials, fortified by aluminum for aerospace applications and edged with Cobalt Nickel. The result is 5 times more resistant than aluminum and 2 times more than steel.

"The combination of design and materials is the formula that makes our propellers particularly efficient in terms of noise emissions and vibration containment" says Albrecht. "We love working with OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers, aircraft and engine manufacturers), but for 50% our customers are private individuals who fly and request our systems on their aircraft". The reference market of MT Propeller is in fact the one called Business & General Aviation. And this attention and direct relationship with the customer is witnessed precisely by an area of ​​the company's website, which hosts a sort of open forum where customers from all over the world send feedback, comments on products and share experiences.

Finally, Albrecht says he is very happy with the collaboration agreement signed with Avio Aero to equip the non-US military applications of the new engine with a completely European passport with Bavarian propellers: in fact, in the coming months, the first test campaigns could be launched at ultramodern plant in Brindisi or in the new test rooms in the Czech Republic.

"We expect the propeller of the innovative GE Catalyst turboprop to 5 blades, but depending on the requirements of power, quietness, speed and altitude we could also think of an 7 blade propeller" says Albrecht. "In the 2016, we tested a propeller at 7 blades confirming performance and quietness similar to those experienced when flying a jet, so we called this product Unducted Prop Fan!".