Abstract: Innovation, Industry Evolution and Shake-out: The Case of the Turboprop Aero Engine, 1945-1966

David J. Smith

Abstract

Studies of the turboprop engine sector of the aerospace industry note that, although the gas turbine represented a major new technological paradigm, industry evolution was not characterized by a period of shake-out with firms leaving the industry. Instead the sector has been shown to be remarkably stable. However, such studies have focused on the period since the 1960s, and as such they provide only a partial account of the introduction of this new technology and the business history of the aerospace industry. This study in contrast focuses on the early history of the gas turbine in the immediate postwar period, in particular on British companies at the forefront of developing turboprop technology for use in civil aviation. It finds that the disruptive nature of the technology combined with generous government funding gave rise to a variety of different design solutions and engine configurations. The majority of these engines proved to be both technical and commercial failures, leading to instability within the sector and ultimately to a process of shake-out that reduced the number of turboprop engine makers in the United Kingdom from four to one.