RT Turbines is well-known in the agricultural aviation industry for its quality service. The company commenced operations in 1993 in Indiana as Midwest Aircraft Welding before relocating to its current home in Marianna, Arkansas, in 1996. Once in its new location, they rebranded the business to RT Turbines and moved from a welding-only operation to a full-blown engine shop under the leadership of family patriarch Rex Thompson. The company has gone on to thrive at its current location, averaging service on approximately 125 Pratt and Whitney PT6A engines each year.
Making the Right Choices
In recent years, the company also invested in installing a state-of-the-art test cell at their Arkansas facility that allows RT Turbines to perform various testing. “We test for three separate kinds of ‘proving grounds’. Number one is the integrity of the repairs that we completed. It gives us a baseline to test your engine’s performance on the test cell. This is also used for troubleshooting purposes. We’ll have people take the engine off and put it we’ll put it across the test cell to correct performance or do vibration analysis. The last real function of the test cell is for return to service checks.” comments Danny Thompson.
The test cell allows the business to provide the most robust servicing available that ensures engine deliveries after service are tested and proven to perform to their utmost capabilities upon delivery to the customer.
Installing the test cell, according to company owner Danny Thompson, who took over the business after his father Rex passed in 2019, is not typical for the size of business that RT Turbines is. Still, to him, it was necessary to ensure the best quality of service to the ag industry. After all, these engines keep operators in the air and work to protect the nation’s crops.
“For a company our size, having a test cell is unique as there are less than a dozen PT6A dynamometer test cells in the United States.”
What Makes Them Different
As a shop that procures the majority of its business in the ag industry, Danny has very little desire to seek more work outside the industry for the business. “My dad, when he started his path to forming this company, wanted to focus on ag aviation, where the other engine shops that he had worked at were more focused on volume than specifically focusing on one area of the industry. There were more corporate aircraft and private operators. He wanted to start a shop that was ag-focused. And to that end, probably 95% or more of our work is ag,” said Danny.
Standing Out From the Crowd
When competing in an industry like ag, there are sometimes many choices when looking for engine overhauls, engine troubleshooting and the myriad of other services that engine shops offer. One fundamental principle Danny Thompson has prided himself on providing the ag industry with is speed. Stating that the average turnaround for engine servicing and inspections due to everyday situations like a wire or prop strike can take shops two to three weeks. Danny’s perspective regarding operators who have an incident during the spray season is to get them back working in the fastest possible timeframe to continue to earn a living.
“Our average speed of turn around in that instance is one to two days instead of a two to three week turns. Knowing that these guys have a narrow window to earn a living, we try to accommodate their window and not worry about us, but to focus on getting them back to work as quickly as possible,” said Danny.
Staffing and Growth
While the business has grown and shrunk over time as their needs dictated, RT Turbines is in a “happy place” with a staff of six A&P mechanics currently providing services for over one hundred aircraft engines in a calendar year. “We’re pretty well suited in this market. We don’t have any plans for growth or expansion in this industry. It’s more that if the right person came along, we’d take on another person or two. But at the same time, we’re managing our workload without any extra staffing. It’s just the ebb and flow of ag aviation overall; you don’t want to grow too fast. You don’t want to shrink too slowly. You want to try and ride the waves as they go up and down.” stated Danny.
The company doesn’t focus much outside what they are good at, which is maintaining and providing service for the Pratt and Whitney PT6A to the entire fleet of ag aircraft from Air Tractor to Ag Cat to Thrush models. The company will, on occasion and as time allows, build and sell an engine for select customers. Still, Danny states that they prefer to stay in the lane of providing quality service in every aspect of servicing and maintaining the PT6A.
While Rex Thompson had chosen aviation as a career early, becoming an A&P in 1979 and later founding what was to become RT Turbines, Danny’s path was not one where he considered aviation as a primary career, going to college first, eventually joining RT Turbines in 1998, starting at the bottom in the grinding shop, working every job in the business, working his way up to being an A&P mechanic before taking the company over.
When asked about family succession, while Danny and his wife have several children, he is not actively encouraging them to join the business straight away. He wants to make sure his children try another industry first to ensure they have those experiences. If they then decide to pivot and want to join the family business of their own accord, that is a path he will look to for them in the future.
As a business that has operated for over 20 years, RT Turbines provides a high level of skill and promises to get you back in the air as fast as possible, especially during the busy season when stakes are high. Danny Thompson and his team continue to provide quality service for the ag industry at reasonable prices.