I was a member of the Assembly Department team directly involved in the development of the JT-11 (J-58) engine at Pratt & Whitney's Experimental, Research & Development Center, West Palm Beach, Florida. I was on the program from late 1957 through the latter part of 1967.
When I arrived on the scene, the main facility was under construction so we operated out of a small structure referred to as the "Butler Hut", which was located approximately five miles from the main entrance. I remember in those early days we would park our cars along the main highway and ride to the butler hut facility on the back of a delivery truck. This was necessary since the road was unpaved and frequently underwater after heavy rains.
The first JT-11 engine was assembled in the butler hut. To say that things went smoothly on that first build would be inconsistent with the facts. I was in charge of the balancing operations and there were problems every step of the way from the balance of individual blade and disc assemblies to the assembled compressor and turbine rotors. I remember the great relief I felt when the balanced rotors were finally delivered to the assembly line.
We were informed at some point in the program that the engine operating environment would be such that a fluid leak at altitude would be catastrophic. The mechanical "B" nuts that had been used forever to connect plumbing to the various accessories could not be trusted to produce zero leaks, so it was decided that the plumbing connections on the J-58 engine would be brazed. A team was formed and tasked with the responsibility to develop procedures and perform the necessary induction brazing operations. I was selected (under duress as I recall) to head the team. Literally thousands of man-hours were devoted to the effort before the project was canceled. It was realized that we probably would never be able to eliminate fuel and oil vapors that contaminated the braze every time heat was applied. The brazing project was finally discontinued and a better sealing method was developed in its place.
The role I played in the development of the J-58 engine was perhaps the most rewarding experience of my thirty-five years in aviation. The professionalism and "can do" attitude of the technicians and engineering staff made it possible for this great engine to become a reality.