Having been selected to provide new turbofans for the USAF’s Boeing B-52H Stratofortress fleet, Rolls-Royce has announced that it has launched F130 engine testing at the firm’s outdoor test facility at the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, marking the first time the new powerplant has been tested in the strategic bomber’s unique dual-pod engine nacelle configuration.
The engine manufacturing giant revealed that it had begun testing the first two F130 turbofan engines for the B-52H fleet on March 1, adding that the process will focus on testing crosswind aerodynamic flow, as well as confirming the successful operation of the powerplant’s digital control system. “Early results from the testing have been very positive with additional test data to be analysed over the next several months,” the firm noted.
Commenting on the start of this milestone test programme, Candice Bineyard – director of Programs, Defence at Rolls-Royce – said: “We are excited to begin this milestone test programme, the first step for what will be decades of successful engine operation for the USAF B-52 fleet. Rolls-Royce continues to work very closely with the Air Force and Boeing to ensure the engine testing and integration process runs smoothly. This will result in higher fuel efficiency, reduced air refuelling requirements, and significantly lower maintenance costs for the B-52 fleet.”
Rolls-Royce emerged as the winner of the USAF’s B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP) on September 24, 2021, beating off competition from GE Aviation and Pratt & Whitney. The US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center awarded the firm an estimated $500.87m indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract with a six-year base period for B-52 replacement engines, but this contract has a potential total value of $2.6bn if the USAF opts to exercise all of its associated options.
As per the USAF’s B-52 CERP requirements, Rolls-Royce will provide 608 military-derivative commercial engines – along with spare powerplants, associated support equipment, commercial engineering data and sustainment activities – for the USAF’s surviving fleet of Stratofortress bombers. Rolls-Royce’s F130 engine will replace the Pratt & Whitney TF33-PW-103 turbofan, which has powered the B-52 fleet since the 1960s and is projected to be no longer supportable beyond 2030. The new engines are expected to remain on the aircraft through to at least 2050 and will increase fuel efficiency and range, while reducing emissions in unburned hydrocarbons and significantly cutting maintenance costs.
The bomber’s new F130 powerplants are being manufactured at Rolls-Royce’s facilities in Indianapolis, Indiana, with the first two fully modified B-52Hs scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2025, following which they will undergo a ground/flight test campaign. The first lot of operational B-52s to be fitted with the new engines are projected to be delivered to the USAF by the end of 2028, with the entire fleet expected to complete the process by 2035.