Rolls-Royce to re-engine entire US B-52 bomber fleet
Rolls-Royce North America has been tapped to supply the replacement jet engines for the venerable Cold War-era B-52 Stratofortress nuclear heavy bomber. Beating out GE Aviation and Pratt & Whitney, the company will provide its F-130 turbofan engine to power the giant aircraft for the next three decades.
The US Air Force's B-52 fleet is now approaching its 70th birthday, which suggests that it should be only found in museums, but the 1950s 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 that 76 B-52Hs are still in service, with another 12 held in reserve storage.
However, 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 craft except for the airframe.
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 under the Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP). The engines will be built and tested at Rolls-Royce North America's Indianapolis, Indiana facility. What is unusual is that 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.
One advantage of this is that the F-130 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 Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) communications aircraft. 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, will be able to B-52 fly longer without in-air refueling.
"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," says Tom Bell, Chairman & CEO, Rolls-Royce North America, and President – Defense. "The F130 is a proven, efficient, modern engine that is the perfect fit for the B-52."