F130 engines: Rolls-Royce begins testing new engines to revamp old B-52 fleet

Rolls-Royce will manufacture over 600 engines to replace the TF33 engines in the current US Air Force fleet.
Ameya Paleja
Rolls Royce F130 engine
Rolls Royce F130 engine

Rolls-Royce has begun testing the new F130 engines at its outdoor testing facility at the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the company said in a press release. The F130 machines are meant to replace the Pratt and Whitney TF33 engines that currently power the 76 B-52 aircraft in the U.S. Air Force's fleet.

The B-52 Stratofortress needs no introduction, and the subsonic bomber with an iconic design has ruled the skies for over five decades. Built by Boeing to carry nuclear weapons for deterrence during the Cold War era, there were as many 744 B-52s with the U.S. Air Force. Over the decades, only a tenth of these aircraft remain and are getting an engine overhaul to extend their utility to the 2050s when the airframe is expected to no longer remain fly worthy.

Rolls-Royce F130 engines

The Rolls-Royce F130 engines were picked after a commercial bidding process in 2021 and have been derived from the company's BR family of engines that power commercial jets like Gulfstream. With over 30 million hours of operation, the BR family of engines has demonstrated reliability and fuel efficiency. They need to confirm whether they can work in a dual-pod configuration.

The B-52's design comprises eight engines arranged in a dual-pod configuration under its two wings. Replacement of the PW TF33 engines also requires reworking the nacelles for the aircraft since the F130 has a higher bypass. Additionally, the BR family of engines has always been used in a single-pod configuration on smaller aircraft.

So, Rolls-Royce must first test the engine in a dual pod configuration. Last year, the company worked with Boeing, responsible for the engine integration, to test a miniature model of the reimagined B-52. Here's the aircraft at four percent scale model in a wind tunnel test.

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The testing at Mississippi aims to monitor crosswind aerodynamic flow when the engines are arranged in dual-pod configuration and test new digital control systems. The testing is expected to continue for many months.

"Rolls-Royce continues to work very closely with the Air Force and Boeing to ensure the engine testing and integration process run smoothly," said Candice Bineyard, Director, Programs – Defence, in the press release. "This will result in higher fuel efficiency, reduced air refueling requirements, and significantly lower maintenance costs for the B-52 fleet."

Rolls-Royce will need to produce 608 engines to replace the TF33 in the current fleet, and another 42 engines are expected to be ordered as spares.

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