Ken’s Dolphin Video: PT6A Comprehensive Overview Day #4

We ran the test-stand engine again today. I’m applying everything I’ve learned thus far, visualizing exactly what is happening inside and around the engine as I manipulate different engine controls. Specifically today, we saw how the propeller operated in different modes like governed, non-governed, beta, and reverse.

Sounds technical, right? As Rod and I discuss oil flow, beta valves, and governors, visions of toy pinwheels, jelly donuts, and dolphins cross my mind. I am watching engine gauges carefully,and pondering thoughts worthy of my five-year-old daughter.

I’m pretty sure I can thank Ken Smoll for that, our primary PT6A instructor this week.

Earlier in class, Ken grinned like a grey-bearded, excited schoolboy, watching our perplexed looks as he played a video no one expected in an aircraft turbine engine operator course. It was a clip of dolphins happily swimming around.


Ken using a dolphin video to explain a the toroidal vortex inside a PT6A combustion chamber.

“There it is! “The toroidal vortex!” Ken shouted. Sure enough, we watched dolphins blow spinning, underwater air rings – not unlike smoke rings. Then they played with the air rings, and even divided them. It’s really cool!

“See, that’s essentially what happens inside the combustion chamber.” Carefully looking us over, Ken observes our responses, gauging our understanding. “An annual, toroidal vortex, like the dolphins are creating with air. Think of it like a hot, spinning donut of air with a fiery jelly filling in the center.”


Ken’s ‘airzooka’ provides further evidence of the toroidal vortex and his creativity in illustrating concepts.

I admit, visualizing airflow inside the PT6A combustion chamber seemed vague until Ken showed the dolphins. Later on, he shoots up the PT6A lab with an ‘airzooka’, which also creates a toroidal vortex. Between the air blast, the porpoise video, and his shameless use of a child’s pinwheel to discuss vane rings, I’m left wondering: what kind of person illustrates turbine engine concepts with porpoises and dollar-store toys?

A knowledgeable, passionate, creative NERD. That’s who.

“No, I don’t bring toys to class,” Ken says. “Only educational devices.”


Ken with another educational device.

As we studied the PT6A turbine fuel metering and propeller control systems today, Ken’s nerdy “educational devices” and illustrations were my only hope to achieving even basic understanding of these complex processes. I’ve repeatedly observed Ken’s passion for effectively transferring knowledge in a usable way. And sure enough, today as we were running the PT6A again, I was able to imagine how the fuel metering value was working… at least in part. This is complicated stuff for my rusty brain!


That’s me on the PT6A runup stand, thinking about dolphins, donuts, pinwheels, etc. as I monitor engine gauges and manipulate levers.

Ken is the Chief Pilot and Chief Operating Officer for both Spokane Turbine Center, and our subsidiary Parkwater Aviation. A veteran missionary pilot himself, he also has years of experience instructing, flying, and maintaining a variety of different turbine aircraft. While all those hours are important, Ken’s passion for excellence in instruction speak just as loud. Like any process-driven individual, the end result is what motivates Ken to do his best.

And what is the end result that Ken is most passionate about? Safe, reliable transportation to remote areas, so that people are reached in the name of Jesus Christ. Thanks to Ken’s donut illustrations, pinwheels, and dolphin videos, a plethora of missionary organizations have been able to cost-effectively use PT6A powered aircraft to accomplish this. And, they’ve had fun learning it.

How many hours of life have been added to engines because operators have known best practices? How much money has that saved nonprofits? How many lives has it saved? How many costly mistakes have been prevented?

While I ponder these questions, I’m going to watch the dolphin video again.

Spokane Turbine Center changes lives. My name is Jon, and I’m passionate about explaining how we equip missionaries to reach isolated people groups using aviation. As a rusty pilot/mechanic, I’m taking our professional missionary aviation training courses to help tell our story. 


Tamryn and the kids came to watch me run the engine today. It’s loud!


3 thoughts on “Ken’s Dolphin Video: PT6A Comprehensive Overview Day #4

  1. Pingback: The End Result: PT6A Comprehensive Overview Day #5 | Propelling Life

  2. Pingback: The Only American: Quest KODIAK Pilot Familiarization Course Day #1 | Propelling Life

  3. Pingback: Lessons at the End: Quest KODIAK Pilot Familiarization Day 8 | Propelling Life

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