Pratt & Whitney engines have dependably served U.S. interests on the world stage in wartime as well as in peace. But 50 years ago this month, the company's renowned products answered the call to serve, much less conspicuously, during a time of national tragedy.
On Nov. 28, 1963, with the nation in a state of shock and mourning following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the bereaved Kennedy family led by then- Attorney General Robert Kennedy landed at Witham Field in Stuart, Fla. They were en route to a family friend's private retreat on Jupiter Island. No official statement was made by Kennedy, nor did any cameras record the landing and no questions were asked concerning the details of the secretive flight.
The family's private aircraft, called the "Caroline" for the president's young daughter, was powered by Pratt & Whitney R-2800 (Double Wasp Radial) engines.
The company's landmark 2800-horsepower Double Wasp entered into service in 1939 and was America's first 18-cylinder radial engine design. It was more powerful than the world's only other modern 18-cylinder, the Gnome-Rhône 18L. The XF4U-1 Corsair was the first airframe to fly with the Double Wasp, and the engine powered several types of fighters and medium bombers during the war.
More than 125,000 Double Wasp engines were produced between 1939 and 1960. Today, three-quarters of a century after its introduction, the engine line is still reputed to be in service powering restored vintage aircraft at air shows. Some may also power cargo and fuel-carrying transports in the remote reaches of Alaska.
The twin-engine Convair 240-440 Caroline was donated to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum by the Kennedy family in November 1967.
To help shield the grieving clan that had so recently been the First Family - and which continued to hold a prominent spot in the nation's heart - as well as to aid a national security role for Robert Kennedy, a special kind of dependability was needed. Pratt & Whitney was proud to answer that call.