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A Visit to the Prince Propeller Factory
By J. Davis, EAA 588164
During a recent road trip to Sun ’n Fun, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the Prince Aircraft propeller factory, which is not far from Toledo, Ohio. Lonnie Prince met us at the door of an extremely unobtrusive storefront on the main street of Whitehouse, Ohio. Inside was a beehive of activity.
Prince Aircraft is what I’d term a mom-and-pop operation. Lonnie proudly told me that he’d been making propellers for more than 30 years without ever needing a single business loan. Profits from prop sales were plowed back into the business. Today his props are highly respected and shipped around the world. Lonnie fabricates propellers not only for aircraft but for wind tunnels, UAVs, and air boats, too.
A small but very productive workshop.
In his previous career, among other things, Lonnie was an air traffic controller. After the 1981 ATC strike in the United States, he decided to get into prop manufacturing full time. His initial capability was just three hand-carved props per month. Today Prince puts out over 100 per month and has sold more than 7,000 throughout the world.
Much of the equipment in the shop is designed and built by Lonnie, including his CNC propeller carver. His homebuilt hydraulic press is used to pressurize the laminations and uses a section of fire hose to develop more than 10,000 pounds of pressure.
Lonnie demonstrates his homebuilt CNC machine.
Duplicating the pitch angle is sometimes necessary even with a CNC.
After the basic shape is machined via CNC, much handwork remains to be done.
Here is the stack of hard maple blanks used for a typical prop blade.
According to its promotional literature, the Prince P-Tip propeller is unique. It has many features not normally found with a fixed pitch propeller, including automatic pitch changing and anhedral. “The Prince P-Tip is an investment in outstanding performance, efficiency, reliability, and noise reduction – all this and our outstanding workmanship, too,” says the promotional literature. After flying my Sonex/Jab 3300 for about 125 hours behind one of Prince’s P-Tips, I certainly agree.