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T55 Center of Excellence Keeps CH-47 Engines in Tip-Top Shape

T55 Center of Excellence Keeps CH-47 Engines in Tip-Top Shape

When it comes to the Honeywell T55 helicopter engine, Phoenix is truly the center of the universe. The venerable turboshaft engine, a pair of which have powered every CH-47 Chinook flight since 1961, has been built here for decades. Phoenix is home to the T55 engineering team. And, a little over a year ago, Honeywell relocated its T55 Repair & Overhaul Center of Excellence from Greer, South Carolina, to Phoenix.  

“The colocation of Honeywell’s entire T55 team has enabled enormous improvements in the way we support the U.S. Army as well as international military and commercial CH-47 operators,” said T.J. Pope, Senior Director for Military Turboshaft Engines at Honeywell.

“We have our engineering, original-equipment manufacturing, and repair and overhaul teams all working within a few blocks of each other,” he added. “That creates amazing synergy and a pool of knowledge, experience and talent that we can bring together to meet our customers’ needs, reduce turnaround time and improve aircraft availability for operators.”

The ability to move people between the new-engine manufacturing team and the R&O Center is one of the best things about colocation, according to Jasminka Bajric, Site Leader for the Honeywell Engines & Power Systems R&O operation at Phoenix Sky Harbor.  

“No one knows an engine better than the techs who built it,” she said. “When we first set up the R&O Center here, we brought people over from the new-engine line to conduct training. We constantly flex our folks from one line to the other, which expands their knowledge and helps us manage variations in customer requirements on both ends. A portion of the T-55 team is certified for both OEM and R&O repair. They flex between sites based on priority.”

In total, Honeywell shipped 174 T55 engines last year, including 47 new T55-714A engines and 127 from repair and overhaul centers in Greer and Phoenix. Since shutting down the Greer operation and setting up shop in Phoenix, R&O Center of Excellence output has skyrocketed, said Tony Picha, Manufacturing Team Lead at the Center of Excellence.

“The R&O output in 2020 went from about seven engines a month in Greer to 14-plus when we moved operations to Phoenix,” he added. “Our capacity is up to about 20 engines a month, so we’re in a position to blow those numbers away this year. We hit 20 for the first time in March and shipped 21 in June, which was really cause for celebration around here.”

Picha has a lot of respect for T55 engines, which pack a lot of power, performance and reliability in a relatively small package. “This is very special and complex machine and it’s a lot of fun to work on,” he said. “Last year we hired two mechanics right out of the Army to work on the R&O line. They bring unique insight to the team because they were on the front lines, actually working on the engine under real-world operating conditions. Talk about hearing the ‘Voice of the Customer!’”

The T55 may have a six-decade legacy of success behind it, but this is hardly your grandparents’ turboshaft, Pope emphasized. “We’ve made seven major modifications over the years to keep the engine relevant for the Army and other operators,” he said. “Now we’re developing a new iteration – the T55-714C – that will raise the bar on power, performance and reliability even higher.”

The T55 R&O Center of Excellence will play an integral role as Honeywell launches the new engine in 2024. Operators will be able to convert their current T55-714A engines to the T55-714C version at either the Phoenix COE or the Army’s Corpus Christi depot. It will also be shipped by Honeywell as a new-production engine.

According to Pope, “The new variant is a 6,000 SHP class engine, which is a four-fold improvement from the original T55 engine, and represents a 20% improvement over the current T55-714A. It will burn 8% less fuel and yield a 25% improvement in overall reliability, including 40% longer compressor life. Operators also will see a 110% improvement in range at 16,000 pounds and a 16% improvement in maximum payload.”

Technicians at the Center of Excellence are more than up to the challenge, Picha said. “Our guys live and breathe the T55 engine. They’re constantly searching for ways to improve processes, reduce turn-around time and make sure we’re delivering a 100% safe engine to our customers. We never forget that people’s lives and our national security depend on what we do.” 

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