Rolls-Royce North America has been selected to provide the powerplant for the B-52H Stratofortress under the Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP), beating out their competitors.
The B-52 fleet has undergone multiple upgrades, big and small, over the years. But the newest airframe among them left Boeing’s assembly line in 1962.
Although the B-52 fleet is now approaching its 70th birthday, the Air Force today still has 76 B-52 aircraft, with another 12 held in reserve storage and will most likely keep these aircraft for the next three decades, which will take the aircraft over a hundred years in service.
The airframe was so over-engineered and has proven so capable of carrying its 70,000 lb (32,000 kg) of nuclear or conventional weapons across the globe, which explains why they are still around. Presently no other aircraft in the US Air Force can come close to what a B-52 is capable of.
The Pratt & Whitney TF33 engines have powered the famous B-52 aircraft, which can carry nuclear weapons, since the 1960s. Boeing will integrate the new Rolls engines, with the first due for testing by 2025.
Past upgrades were generally aimed at easing operations and/or maintenance, but In terms of efficiency, they are outdated. The new Rolls-Royce engines should be a dramatic change for the fleet in this regard.
The B-52s flying today are very different from those that entered service in 1955. Over the years, the aircraft has been extensively modified and upgraded with new electronics, weapon dispensers, and other systems, meaning little is left of the original aircraft except for the airframe.
The US Air Force made the announcement after a vigorous multi-year competition, citing that the F130 is the perfect fit for the B-52 with proven reliability, superb life cycle cost, and low integration risk.
Tom Bell, Chairman & CEO, Rolls-Royce North America, and President – Defense, said, “We are proud to join a truly iconic U.S. Air Force program and provide world-class, American-made engines that will power its missions for the next 30 years. The F130 is a proven, efficient, modern engine that is the perfect fit for the B-52.”
The F130 offers outstanding reliability with high mission readiness and low maintenance demands. Once installed, the F130 can stay on wing for the entire planned B-52 lifetime. In addition, the F130 engine will provide vastly greater fuel efficiency, increased range, and reduced tanker aircraft requirements. As importantly, the engine is ready for integration using Rolls-Royce state-of-the-art Digital Engineering tools.
Rolls-Royce will build and test the F130 engines at its Indianapolis, Indiana, facility following the recent completion of a $600 million investment to revitalize the advanced manufacturing campus — providing some of the most technologically advanced state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities anywhere in the world. The B-52 CERP win creates demand for 650 engines to be produced at the site and will bring 150 new high-tech, high-skilled jobs for the state of Indiana. The latest life extension will involve replacing the current engines with 608 engines (eight per plane) and 42 spares, at a cost of US$2.6 billion.
The F-130 isn’t a bespoke engine for the B-52, but a militarized version of the company’s BR725 commercial engine that was developed for the Gulfstream G650 business jet.
Craig McVay, SVP Strategic Campaigns, Rolls-Royce Defense said: “This is a major win for Rolls-Royce. We’ve been planning and preparing for this outcome and are ready to hit the ground running to prove that we are the best choice for the Air Force and the B-52. Our employees stand prepared to deliver once again for the men and women who protect our freedoms every day.”
Rolls-Royce has a long and successful history providing the power to protect for U.S. military customers. The F-130 engine already has 27 million engine flight hours under its figurative belt and is already being used in the US Air Force’s C-37 executive jet and E-11 BACN (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node) communications aircraft. Rolls-Royce powers C-130H, C-130J, CV-22 Osprey and Global Hawk in the USAF fleet – having delivered thousands of engines to the U.S. Air Force for more than 70 years. All engines are designed and manufactured in Indianapolis.
With 16,900 lb of thrust, the F-130 has a 50-in (130-cm) fan with swept titanium blades, a two-stage turbine, and an HP axial compressor, as well as an improved combustor for significantly lower emissions and greater efficiency. This means that, among other improvements, it will be enable a B-52 to fly longer without in-air refueling.
“We couldn’t have reached this outcome on our own,” stated Tom. “Rolls-Royce is deeply appreciative of the strong support we have received from partners at the federal, state and city level. Thank you for all you’ve done to support our bid. This is a truly great day for Rolls-Royce, the State of Indiana, City of Indianapolis and the future of the B-52 program.”
The new engines will allow the bombers to continue missions into the 2050s.