A new chapter in the long history of Dowty Propellers was written last week in Brockworth, United Kingdom, as the company inaugurated its brand-new, 183,000-square foot headquarters facility. But to begin this chapter anew, it required heroic efforts from Dowty employees and major support from their customers.
Four years ago, Dowty Propellers, part of GE Aviation’s Business and General Aviation & Integrated Systems business, was devastated by an overnight fire that destroyed its main manufacturing facility and headquarters. Miraculously, there were no injuries. The damage, however, was extensive.
Within hours of the blaze, Dowty, with the support of GE Aviation, went to work. Employees were relocated to nearby GE Aviation facilities and soon began working with Dowty’s global customer base to continue their operations uninterrupted.
Dowty President Oliver Towers recounted the company’s extraordinary efforts in the aftermath of the fire and the rebuilding process at the dedication of Dowty’s new facility in early December. “Customer support was vital during this years-long process, and the support went both ways. Our customers were there for us, and we were there for them to continue creating, manufacturing and supporting the most sustainable, efficient and robust propeller systems for their fleet.”
The resilience of the Dowty team was recognized by many of those customers, including Lockheed Martin and De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited, both of which had company representatives at the grand opening ceremony. “The Dowty Propellers team has been able to provide seamless support to our production line and ensured continued worldwide support to our airlines,” said Todd Young, Chief Operating Officer, De Havilland Aircraft Canada Limited. “We look forward to a continued strong relationship with Dowty Propellers.”
In 2016, Lockheed Martin, whose C130J Hercules aircraft use Dowty’s propeller systems, gifted a commemorative display featuring a United States flag after the first shipset of propellers were installed after the fire.
Rod McLean, Vice President and General Manager of Air Mobility and Maritime Missions at Lockheed Martin, spoke to the significance of that gift, which is on display at Dowty’s new HQ. “This flag, for Lockheed Martin, represents a beacon of hope,” he said, “because the Dowty team was able to recover and allow us to support our customers across the globe.”
A Tribute to Local History
GE Aviation’s connection to famed British inventor Sir Frank Whittle is well documented. It was Whittle’s turbojet engine design, after all, that GE engineers used in the early 1940s to develop the United States’ first turbojet engine. But before Whittle took his design to the United States, his engine performed taxying trials—and briefly took flight for the first time—at the Gloster Aircraft Aerodrome in Brockworth.
In the more than 50 years since the aerodrome was shut down and subsequently sold, the area has been developed into housing, retail and the Gloucester Business Park, where Dowty Propellers’ new facility now stands. Recognizing the aerodrome’s contributions to Britain’s aviation industry, Dowty—in partnership with Arlington, the developers of the business park—recovered and restored two 1-meter-long segments from the original Gloster Aircraft Aerodrome runway.
Ian Whittle, son of Sir Frank Whittle, attended a special ceremony at the nearby Jet Age Museum prior to the Dowty facility’s opening to unveil a new display incorporating one of the two runway segments. Recounting his father’s heavy involvement with GE Aviation in developing the United States’ first jet engine, Whittle was pleased to see a continued connection and recognition of his father’s work. An identical tribute with the second runway segment was installed in the reception area of the new Dowty facility.
“We are so pleased to have taken steps to preserve an important part of Gloucestershire’s aviation history,” said Dowty President Oliver Towers. “I can still remember walking on what remained of that runway before we started construction and trying to determine what we’d do to preserve it. The installation at the Jet Age Museum and here at the new facility are quite fitting and remarkably well done.”
The Future of the Brockworth Facility
The striking front façade of the massive new building is certain to capture the attention of locals. However, the most impressive part of the Brockworth facility isn’t the outside, but the inside, where all the employees and machinery will be relocated by mid-2020.
“It has been like entering a new house: the transition is still ongoing, furnishing still to be all set, but I am filled with pride looking at what is widely seen as one of the most remarkable recoveries in the aviation industry,” Towers remarked.
Once the move-in is complete, it will be full speed ahead for the Dowty team. Leveraging decades of operations experience, the building’s interior was designed with lean manufacturing in mind, bringing several key teams, including company leadership, design and engineering, and repair and overhaul, under one roof.
“Our team of more than 140 technical experts in service and manufacturing will collaborate on a 140,000-square foot shop floor, improving communications, combining their respective skills and relying on new ‘Brilliant Factory’ technology,” said Gaizka Bilbao, manufacturing leader at the Brockworth site. “All this under one roof means more flexibility and better solutions for the customers.”
“With this state-of-the-art facility, the team is poised to continue its leadership in this industry with sustainable, smart technologies and a driven, dedicated workforce,” said Brad Mottier, GE Aviation’s Vice President and General Manager of Business and General Aviation & Integrated Systems.
Indeed, many of Dowty’s recent investments are aimed at new technologies and advanced manufacturing techniques that will define the company in the years to come. Whether leading the Aerospace Technology Institute’s DigiProp project, which looks to provide cleaner, cheaper, quieter, and more comfortable air travel on turboprop aircraft, or enhancing lean manufacturing through digital technology that connects machines to an industrial internet to reduce downtime, Dowty continues to look forward.
“Propeller systems will carry even more importance if we think about the hybrid electric or fully electric propulsion in the air traffic,” added Towers. “It’s an exciting future without question.”