Rolls-Royce's next-gen engines just rolling along

 - February 21, 2010, 4:17 PM

The ongoing worldwide need for helicopters of all types that serve diverse industry and government segments is helping keep manufacturers like Rolls-Royce busy. Current Rolls-Royce engine programs include the RR500 turboshaft and turboprop, the already certified RR300 and the venerable M250. The LHTEC T800 partnership with Honeywell also remains active, with four first flights last year.

Robinson Helicopter’s R66 is still on track to be the first helicopter certified with the RR300, and RotorWay International is developing its first certified helicopter, the Eagle 300T, powered by the RR300.

Having certified the RR300 last year, Rolls-Royce has completed accelerated mission testing, simulating years of engine operation in a test cell. “This allows us to demonstrate maturity before it is deployed widely,” said Rolls-Royce helicopter engines president Ken Roberts. The testing also confirmed the engine’s 2,000-hour TBO. “It’s quite a demanding test,” he said. “We really put the hardware through its paces. All of our expectations were satisfied, so we had a positive outcome.”

Rolls-Royce is developing both the turboshaft and turboprop versions of the 475-shp RR500 in unison. “By running both in parallel it generates benefits,” Roberts said, “and we can do a piece of engineering or test work once and apply it to both product lines.”

The RR500 remains on track for 2011 certification and initial production deliveries in the first quarter of 2012. Component testing is now under way, and this will be followed by fabrication and assembly of a complete test engine, which should take place later this year. The major difference found in the RR500 is an all-new single-stage compressor and matched turbine.

“Both the RR300 and RR500 are designed in such a way to be fairly easily retrofittable to any model 250 application,” Roberts said, and Rolls-Royce has fielded inquiries from interested parties. For the RR500, he added, “We’re in active discussions with multiple parties for fixed-and rotary wing applications.”

The U.S. Army’s Kiowa Warrior program is spurring development of a new Fadec for the M250 engine. “The current Fadec on the engine is working well,” Roberts said, “but this will bring an additional set of capabilities to the system that the current system will not accommodate.” Since the Army canceled the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program in October 2008, it has had to extend the life of the Kiowa fleet–which numbers more than 300–well beyond 2020, according to Roberts. The new Fadec and other upgrades to the helicopter are part of that effort. Rolls-Royce plans to make the new Fadec available for other M250 upgrades after it enters service in the Kiowa fleet.

The M250 is installed in the U.S. Navy’s Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV, which began initial operational evaluation late last year. Once the evaluation is completed, the Navy will decide on how many Fire Scouts it plans to deploy. “The ultimate requirement could be substantial,” Roberts said. “And there’s quite a lot of interest by international partners.”

The first customer deliver of an M250-powered Sikorsky S434 took place in December, to launch customer Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of the Interior. The Saudi program includes nine aircraft.

The LHTEC T800, a 50/50 partnership between Rolls-Royce and Honeywell, was installed in four helicopters that made first flights last year. AgustaWestland’s twin-T800-powered T129 for the Turkish armed forces flew in September. The AgustaWestland AW159 Lynx Wildcat (formerly Future Lynx) for the British Ministry of Defence also flew last year. Britain’s current Lynx fleet is being reengined with the T800, and this new version (Lynx Mk.9A) flew for the first time last year and has now begun deliveries. Finally, Sikorsky’s T800-powered X2 technology demonstrator took to the air last year.