Pratt and Whitney’s Sixty-Fifth Anniversary Air Show
The year was 1990, sixty-five years after the Pratt and Whitney company began their work on aircraft engines in East Harford, Connecticut. Frederick Rentschler and six others moved into an empty shop space in 1925, and developed the Wasp radial – an air cooled aircraft engine. This was the first in a long line of radial designs, and the company was just one of the brands that would ultimately merge to become the 1990’s United Technologies Corporation, a major Connecticut employer and world leader in aviation engine and systems manufacturing.
The airport at the Pratt and Whitney headquarters was named after Frederick Rentschler, and served as its flagship aerodrome for many years – it was dedicated in 1931. Air shows held at the private airport celebrating twenty-five, fifty, and sixty years gained notable interest. Originally a turf strip, before World War II, it gained paved runways and housed a Pursuit Squadron for defense of the area during the Second World War, and also served as an ad hoc rescue base during natural disasters of flooding and hurricane emergencies in Connecticut. By the 1980s and 1990s, an almost-daily Boeing 727 flight was shuttling workers between Connecticut and Florida design and manufacturing facilities, operating between Rentschler Field and West Palm Beach.
n 1990, a huge airshow and exhibit was presented to celebrate sixty five years of business. Over seventy five aircraft were on hand during a rainy August weekend, but the weather didn’t deter a lot of the flying and exhibition. Most of the aircraft on hand were powered by Pratt and Whitney engines, but the full air show wasn’t just about the company, but aviation history and entertainment too. Free to the public, some of the big names of the air show industry, such as Manfred Radius, Craig Hosking, Chuck Lischer, and Patty Wagstaff performed. The Coors Silver Bullets in their BD-5J jets, Peter Vandersluis in his North American NA-50, and a Grumman Cats formation, containing a F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat, and F-14A Tomcat in the lead put on displays in the sometimes bright, sometimes threatening skies.
On the ground, a diverse static display showed Pratt and Whitney products in use… in commercial, military, and civilian arenas. Corporate use aircraft like a Grumman Gulfstream G-III and a P&WA -operated Embraer E-120 joined a unique Boeing 720B airliner converted into an airborne engine testbed, complete with a huge turboprop in the nose. A DHC C-7A Caribou transport, with Pratt and Whitney radial engines, was joined by a CT ARNG CH-54 Tarhe “Flying Crane” as part of the military static, and airliners included a Northwest Airlines Boeing 747-400, A Pan Am A-310, an Airbus A-320 demonstrator jet, the Air Canada/Trans Canada Lockheed 12 Electra prop airliner, and Lufthansa’s Junkers 52-3m trimotor, which had been retrofitted with P&WA radials in 1976.
Looking back, what was cutting edge then may be commonplace today, but some changes stand out. Pratt and Whitney is still in business, but its presence in Connecticut is reduced, and Rentschler Field has been closed… except for a helicopter landing pad for P&WA business. Most of the sprawling area has been converted to the University of Connecticut’s NCAA Division I football stadium now! Of course, Pan Am and Northwest have gone out of business too. The Navy’s F-14 Tomcats received an engine replacement from a competitor, and all have been retired as well.
Here’s a look back at that rainy weekend some twenty-seven years ago… more than a quarter of a century. Enjoy!