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'Hot Rod’ Turbine Conversions

Words by Bobby Bishop

TPE331-12JR on the company's Supervan 900 converted aircraft.
TPE331-12JR on a Supervan 900 converted aircraft — Image by Texas Turbine Conversions, Inc.

There are Coke people and Pepsi people. Guys who drive Chevy trucks and Ford enthusiasts. Country music lovers and rock’n’roll fans. I guess you could call me a Honeywell TPE331 turboprop engine fanatic.

I remember thinking “this is a hot rod engine!”
Bobby

It all started about 20 years ago when our sister company, Skydive Texas, was looking to upgrade the pre-century TPE331-25A engine on our de Havilland DHC-3 Otter. It didn’t take us (Texas Turbine Conversions) long to choose the then-Garrett TPE331. In fact, I knew that the TPE331 was the right choice the first time I flew it on a Porter and felt the great power response that this true pilot’s engine delivers. I remember thinking “this is a hot rod engine!”

A Texas Turbine conversion in Suriname
A Texas Turbine conversion in Suriname

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Until then I only knew the TPE331 by reputation. It had been around a long time and was known for its power, reliability, performance and fuel economy. You might remember that the Porter PC-6 was made famous by Air America during the Vietnam War and all those aircraft were powered by the TPE331 under the harshest conditions imaginable.

As our Skydive Texas business grew, we moved up to a de Havilland Single Otter, which we also converted to a TPE331 power plant with great results. The Super Otter is a “workhorse” carrying cargo and people in and out of short landing strips. Then we certified the Supervan 900, which includes both the Caravan 208 and 208B. The engine modification allows the airplane to carry around 18 skydivers in a single-engine airplane which reduces fuel consumption improving the operator’s bottom line – making it a great choice for the industry.

A Texas Turbine conversion in Soldotna, Alaska
A Texas Turbine conversion in Soldotna, Alaska

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Since it all started, Texas Turbine Conversions has sold about 150 TPE331 conversions to skydiving companies, hunting and fishing charters, special missions, passenger operators and private owners. We specialize in de Havilland DHC-3 Otter and Cessna 208/208B Caravan conversions. We do many conversions at our Dallas-area facility and we have partners located throughout North America, in Europe, South America, Africa and Australia. The engine conversions are surprisingly economical with relatively quick return on investment for most operators.

This year the TPE331 celebrates its 50th anniversary. But make no mistake: this is not your father’s turboprop. Honeywell has continuously improved the engine over the years. The TPE331 engine family now includes 18 models and more than 108 configurations. More than 13,000 copies have been delivered and the engine has more than 122 million flight hours under its belt.

Multiple owners from Europe
Multiple owners from Europe

I’ve personally flown thousands of hours in airplanes powered by the TPE331 and thousands more in planes equipped with the Pratt & Whitney PT6, the TPE331’s main competitor. For me, at least, there’s just no comparison. You can check out the online value calculator on the Texas Turbine website and see the figures for yourself. Or you can check the YouTube video below that dramatically shows the two engines going head-to-head:

FFI: Texas Turbine Conversions

(to find the Online Value Calculator click 'Our Conversions' tab then 'Savings Calculator')  

The Texas Turbine 900 shp Supervan 900 takes on the Stock 675 shp floatplane in a head to head 8000 lb takeoff competition and it isn't even close. Alan Helfer of Talon Air shows what the Supervan can do in the Alaska environment. It brings a whole new meaning to floatplane.

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