End of an Era: Production of C-17 Aircraft Engines Comes to a Close
The Boeing Co. last year delivered the last C-17 cargo plane to the U.S. Air Force. Now Pratt & Whitney officially is shutting down production of the aircraft’s engines.
Pratt & Whitney will no longer manufacture the F117 engine after it delivers the 1,313th unit later this month. The line has been running nonstop since 1993.
The Air Force operates a fleet of 223 C-17s. The wide-belly, four-engine cargo aircraft has been a workhorse for more than two decades, shuttling troops and hauling supplies around the globe.
Boeing last year closed down the C-17 line in Long Beach, California, three years after the Air Force announced it would no longer buy them. The service intends to continue operating the C-17 for the next two to three decades, relying on the existing inventory of PW2000/F117 engines.
Pratt & Whitney executives and Air Force leaders gathered Jan. 12 in Middletown, Connecticut, to commemorate the closing of the production line. The closure of an engine manufacturing line is a big deal and a rare event for the company, which has a handful of engine models in production, and where manufacturing runs usually last for decades.
The F117 engine is a member of the company’s PW2000 family of commercial engines that power the Boeing 757 airliner.
The conclusion of the F117 program comes at a turning point for Pratt & Whitney as the company shifts gears to ramp up production of the F135 engine for the F-35 joint strike fighter, another engine that will power the Air Force’s new aerial refueling tanker, and a commercial geared turbofan.
“This marks the end of F117 production, but we are preparing for an unprecedented production ramp with our geared turbofan and F135 production lines,” said company spokesman Matthew C. Bates.
It is unclear, however, how the company will be involved in the future maintenance of the F117 inventory. The Air Force in 2014 sought to compete the work after its sole-source contract with Pratt & Whitney for logistics support ended. The Air Force was not able to find alternative suppliers because Pratt & Whitney owns the intellectual property rights to the engine and spare parts designs and insisted that future support contracts be handled as commercial transactions rather than as a military-unique procurement.
The company’s relationship with the Defense Department encountered turbulence after a Pentagon inspector general report in 2014 questioned whether the Defense Department was being overcharged for F117 maintenance and repair work.
The Air Force continues to maintain the F117 engine through Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney remains a supplier to the Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The specific arrangements for future maintenance of the F117 — whether it’s done through Boeing, entirely by Tinker personnel or with Pratt & Whitney — remain unsettled, according to an industry source.
Bennett Croswell, president of P&W Military Engines, called the closing of the F117 line a “bittersweet” goodbye. “The F117 production engine program might be ending, but we look forward to working with our customers around the world to sustain their engines and to keep the C-17 fleet flying for decades to come.” The F117, Croswell said, is about “as successful a program as we’ve had at Pratt & Whitney in many years.”
In a speech to Pratt & Whitney employees, Air Force Brig. Gen. Stacey T. Hawkins, thanked the company for supplying a “venerable” engine. Hawkins is director of logistics, engineering and force protection at Air Force Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
PHOTO: Bennett Croswell, president of P&W Military Engines, greets Air Force Brig. Gen. Stacey T. Hawkins during a ceremony in Middletown, Connecticut, Jan. 12.