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P&W opens Gator Works prototyping arm for new engines

On the eve of the 75th anniversary of Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works, Pratt & Whitney has revealed a new prototyping arm assigned to develop new engines in half the time and for half the cost.

The newly-formed Gator Works opened quietly earlier this year at the company’s testing and manufacturing site in the Florida Everglades near West Palm Beach, says Matthew Bromberg, president of P&W Military Engines.

A small group of hand-picked employees are working on four undisclosed prototyping projects with three simple rules to guide them: “use all of Pratt & Whitney’s intellectual property, don’t hurt anyone and don’t break the law”, Bromberg says.

The goal is to allow the Gator Works break free from the cumbersome corporate procedures that contribute to 20-year development cycles for large aircraft engines.

“In a company like P&W we have a lot of rules and a lot of processes,” Bromberg says. “In fact, we have processes to manage processes.”

The details and scope of the Gator Works’ first four are being kept secret. P&W’s announcement states the organisation is charged with developing “state-of-the-art engines," but in an interview Bromberg qualifies that assignment with the initial caveat that the organisation “will walk before we can run”.

The Gator Works model is inspired by the Skunk Works founded in 1943 in Burbank, California by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. The US Army Air Corps gave the Lockheed executive a contract to deliver the XP-80 jet fighter within 180 days, and Johnson’s hand-picked team of 23 engineers and 105 machinists met the deadline.

A string of aircraft with breakthrough capabilities followed, including the Blackbird series of Mach 3.2 aircraft that were powered by P&W’s J58 turbo ramjet.

“We read about Kelly Johnson and the platforms he worked and understand the reasons why early in Lockheed’s trajectory he recognised the need to create Skunk Works,” Bromberg says.

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