Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America
From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite September/October 2015
William Hunt, Chief Executive Officer, AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation
Taking the reins of a successful helicopter manufacturing organization in his home town, Bill Hunt is now building a team to deliver the world’s first commercial tiltrotor. AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corp. (AWPC) expects to fly a production-representative AW609 in the summer of 2016, aiming for FAA certification at the end of 2017 and customer deliveries in the first half of 2018. The tiltrotor will share factory space and engineering resources with the AW139, AW119, and newly-certified AW169 helicopters. Mr. Hunt notes, “The team that we grew around the ‘139 was mainly around the manufacturing – the assembly, delivery, and, of course, the customer-support side. The ‘609 is a little bit different animal. The growth up-front will be around engineering.”
Tiltrotor plans will add 80 lead engineers in the next year, and AWPC is hiring both rotorcraft veterans and people new to the industry, Mr. Hunt explains. “The newer people we’re bringing on-board can be put on some of the basic platforms and learn the business through the ‘119 and ‘139. We’ll take those experienced people and move them into some of the higher levels of technology.” He adds, “The technology around the tilt-rotor only exists in very specific places. Many of the new recruits that we’re bringing on board are a mix of Bell and Boeing people. We’re also taking advantage of the local aviation expertise that is available from Boeing, Piasecki, and other companies here in the region as well. They’re local people. They understand the Philadelphia area. They understand the culture.”
Bill Hunt grew up in the Bustleton section of northeast Philadelphia, today about 7 minutes from the AWPC facility at Northeast Regional Airport. He completed general, engineering and business schooling in the Philadelphia area and recalls, “When I was younger, I had wanted to be a pilot and had dreamed of going to the Air Force or Naval Academy. In the end, I wound up going to Penn State and majoring in aerospace engineering.” Bill Hunt’s father, George, returned from Korea to become a draftsman and engineer at General Electric. “My father was a big influence because, besides General Electric, he owned a small manufacturing company, and he was always talking to me about what was going on in the industry.”
Aerospace engineering education took a highly practical turn. Bill Hunt explains, “I was through my first two years and had to make a decision about going off the Penn State main campus. My brother was going to Spring Garden College. I met with the dean of engineering there and talked about what kind of engineering I wanted to do, mainly that I really wanted to work with people rather than sit at a computer terminal. He suggested that I try manufacturing engineering.” The manufacturing curriculum shared most mechanical engineering content. “The major difference for me at Spring Garden was it was a tech school. There was a lot of hands-on experience. You ran a lathe. You ran a machining center. You operated quality inspection gauges.”
Graduation led to a cost-estimating job at the LaFrance PACTEC die casting and injection molding plant near the Philadelphia airport. “Coming out of manufacturing engineering, that was the perfect first job for me. I got the chance to be exposed to all the different parts of the company as part of gathering the estimating – the tool shop, the manufacturing shop floor, the marketing department.”
The world’s first production tiltrotor nevertheless offered Bill Hunt his aerospace opportunity. “Boeing was hiring for the start of V-22 Full Scale Development in 1985. Ironically, I got hired as an industrial engineer and not a manufacturing engineer. My first job was doing the make-or-buy calculations for the CH-47D program. The V-22 was picking up fast, and after a year or so, I got moved into composite technology. I spent about four years there working on the industrialization of the V-22 for production.
“The V-22 brought along a lot of composite technology, and I had a chance to bring a lot of those technologies on line for the company – fiber placement, five-axis trim cells, automated layup templates, all the things that really defined the industry back in the day. The crowning jewel of that for me was building the first one-piece V-22 aft section. I’ll never forget the feeling the day we brought it out of the autoclave and collapsed the tool inside it.”
Over 21 years at Boeing, Bill Hunt saw the Philadelphia workforce grow from about 1,700 to nearly 5,000 people with simultaneous tilt-rotor and helicopter production. His team implemented the production surge for new CH-47F and MH-47G Chinooks. “We were increasing the rate about four times over and incorporating the F-model into the line. Right in the middle of the F changeover, the Special Ops guys came in and wanted G models. It really taught me about the integration of the team and the level of integration it takes between engineering and manufacturing to be successful. With all those challenges, we were able to deliver the first MH-47Gs on time.”
Former AWPC CEO Bruno Celleme was instrumental in establishing the AgustaWestland Philadelphia business and recruited the Boeing Chinook program manager as vice president of operations at a time of expansion. Mr. Hunt recalls, “I arrived in July 2006, and we had received the first cabin for the AW139 the week before. We were building the first unit with Italian manufacturing plans and with Italian teammates with us in the factory.
“At the time, the sales of the ‘139 were exploding. We grew four times over in the first four years.” Initially, the Philadelphia assembly team planned to deliver 24 AW139s a year. Production topped 40 aircraft in 2013. “We went on a country-wide search to bring in some senior, experienced people to take our young team and help them grow. I think that’s one of the huge successes we have as well. The team that we built here is extremely diverse and comes from a plethora of aerospace companies – some fixed-wing but mostly all rotorcraft. Bringing those people together was a huge challenge but it’s been the success of the company.”
Introduction of the AW609 tiltrotor will coincide with US production of the newly-certified AW169 helicopter. “We’re looking for the ‘169 to be able to fill a market need not currently being met by any other aircraft,” says Mr. Hunt. Orders from Emergency Medical Services and other active market segments promise to offset falling demand for new aircraft in the oil and gas industry. “Not that we haven’t been impacted – for sure we have. But we’re confident that we’re finding other avenues. We’re also seeing some diversity in places where we haven’t earned the business before, like Colombia. There are also some growth opportunities in Africa.” While AWPC has no manufacturing role in the new AW189, “We’re engaged from a customer support and training perspective, just not from a production perspective.”
Tilt Rotor Turnaround
AgustaWestland now counts about 60 orders on the books for the nine-passenger AW609 tiltrotor. Bill Hunt notes, “Our announcement at Heli-Expo this year gave the program a rebirth, the realization that this is going to happen . . . . We’re really using the technology and the opportunity the aircraft is putting forward to allow the aircraft to market itself – the faster-further-higher opportunities it’s creating.”
The one-time Bell Agusta BA609 partnership is now the global AW609 enterprise with computer-aided design and test engineering done in Italy, dynamics made in the UK Center of Excellence, and structures made in Poland, all integrated in Philadelphia. In addition, where the AW119, 139, and 169 have largely European supply chains, most AW609 suppliers are in the U.S., and the revolutionary tiltrotor will be certified first by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. “Mr. Hunt explains, “Because AWPC is the applicant for certification, we had to move the center of the program. The US team will be mainly focused, as the lead engineers and decision makers, on design change and design integration, and also as part of the flight test program.”
The fourth AW609 flight test article will be the certification aircraft with cockpit touch screens and other refinements. “It will have embodied in it all of the technology changes that have been made through the flight-testing of Prototypes One and Two.” AWPC is working with FAA Centers in Dallas and New York on tilt rotor certification, and it has educated Congressional contacts to make regulatory progress with the AW609. “There are opportunities beyond the business opportunities,” says Mr. Hunt. “There are environmental opportunities – noise reduction improvements – where this aircraft offers a little bit of everything.”
The AW609 test and engineering teams were recently recognized by AHS, winning a best technical paper award at Forum 71 in Virginia Beach, and AWPC is active in local AHS Chapter events. Mr. Hunt notes, “The young staff that we do have, every one of them that’s been engaged with AHS has seen benefits from the networking opportunities that they get.
“It’s difficult for those younger engineers sometimes to see where they fit in in the larger community and that they are at the cutting edge of things. Our younger staff, including our most recent hires, are engaged in meaningful work on an everyday, hands-on basis that many other places do not offer. We thrive on making sure that our engineers are integrated into everything that’s going on in the factory.”
With the AW609 and AW169 coming in-house, AWPC head-count will rise to 630 people by the end of the year, about 110 of them engineers. “We have internship and apprenticeship programs in several areas,” says Mr. Hunt. “One of them is production engineering. We previously haven’t had the opportunity to look at that on the design engineering side. For sure, that’s something we will be doing.” AWPC also has a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) mentoring program with St. Martin of Tours School in Philadelphia and has introduced in 2015 a week-long summer camp that shows students the basics of engineering, manufacturing, and principles of flight.
The growing Philadelphia Company will nevertheless remain closely aligned with its European parents. “Really for us, being an integrated member of AgustaWestland brings a lot of value to us,” acknowledges Mr. Hunt. “There are vast resources available to us through AgustaWestland, through the Centers of Excellence, through the design teams, through the previous experience in assembly and flight that we rely on very heavily. We’re actually looking forward to further opportunities integrating with AgustaWestland and the other Finmeccanica companies.” AgustaWestland is developing a 22-to-24 seat tilt-rotor under the European Clean Sky 2 initiative. Mr. Hunt observes, “This will allow some of the tiltrotor engineers who have been working on the technology for years to move on to the next generation.”