Rolls-Royce Begins Testing of B-52 Replacement Engine

 - March 2, 2023, 4:53 AM
The F130 is being tested in the twin-engine pods in which it will be fitted on the B-52. (Photo: Rolls-Royce)

Rolls-Royce has begun testing of the F130 engine that was selected in September 2021 under the Commercial Engine Replacement Program to replace the aging Pratt & Whitney TF33s that currently power the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of 76 Boeing B-52H strategic bombers. With each aircraft being equipped with eight of the turbofans, the expected powerplant requirement will be at least 608 units, with perhaps as many as 42 spares also to be procured.

The F130 is based on the commercial BR725, a member of Rolls-Royce’s BR700 family that has achieved more than 30 million flight hours powering various ultra-long-range business jets. Other BR700-series engines are already in service with the U.S. Air Force on various Gulfstream and Bombardier Global variants.

Compared with the 1960s-vintage TF33-P-103, the F130 offers greatly improved fuel-burn, noise, and emission performance, with significantly reduced maintenance requirements. In a great number of cases, the durability of the F130 is expected to allow it to remain “on-wing” for the remaining 30 years of the B-52’s expected operational life.

In the B-52H application, the F130s are mounted in a side-by-side arrangement in four twin-engine nacelles. The initial tests of the engine are being conducted in pairs mounted in the pod. Rolls-Royce reports that initial tests have been encouraging, and ongoing trials are focusing on crosswind aerodynamic flow and on the engine’s digital control system.

“We are excited to begin this milestone testing program, the first step for what will be decades of successful engine operation for the United States Air Force B-52 fleet,” said Candice Bineyard, director of defense programs. “Rolls-Royce continues to work very closely with the Air Force and Boeing to ensure the engine testing and integration processes run smoothly. This will result in higher fuel efficiency, reduced air refueling requirements, and significantly lower maintenance costs for the B-52 fleet.”

The trials are being conducted at the Rolls-Royce outdoor test facility at the NASA Stennis Space Center in southwest Mississippi. The F130 engines will be built in the company’s largest manufacturing facility in the U.S. at Indianapolis. The company has recently invested $1 billion in modernizing the facility and its associated test facilities.