The US Air Force’s long-standing interest in re-engining its B-52H Stratofortress fleet is receiving renewed attention as the FY2019 budget – to be submitted to Congress early next year – has been finalised. The Air Force has made a business-case analysis of the potential benefits to be achieved by adopting one of the different options available. The bomber is expected to continue in service until 2040–2050. Savings could come from better fuel efficiency, reductions in maintenance requirements and a need for less aerial refuelling on operational and training missions.
Among the options being considered are a refurbished (the lowest cost option) version of current engines or an upgraded new-production version of the current Pratt & Whitney TF33 and the Rolls- Royce BR725, with the B-52H retaining its current eight-engine configuration. Two spectacular B-52 mishaps during the past year, while not caused by defects to the engines, have drawn attention to the issue. In one case, an engine fell off a 5th Bomb Wing B-52H and plunged into a river in South Dakota; in the other, a B-52H from Barksdale Air Force Base had six engines stop running – at the same time – while in flight. Both aircraft were recovered safely.
David C Isby