Here’s how 21st-century design is giving 60-year-old B-52s a new lease on life

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ORLANDO — The iconic B-52 Stratofortress bomber has been the flagship of the Air Force fleet since it was first introduced during the Cold War.

However, the average B-52 is now 60 years old and is increasingly showing that age, so the bomber is getting a new life lease in the form of a new slate of the F130 engine from Rolls-Royce North America. ..

Also, in a briefing with a reporter on March 4, Rolls-Royce and Boeing officials detailed how the latest digital design technology has helped create the B-52’s new engine and related systems. ..

Announced in September, the Air Force Rolls-Royce signed a $ 2.6 billion Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP) contract to keep the B-52 flying until the 2050s, about 100 years after the first B-52 flew. received.

The B-52’s current Pratt & Whitney TF33 engine dates back to the early 1960s and is expected to reach the end of its life by the end of the last decade.

This is a “pace concern” for bombers, Boeing’s strategic development and investment manager Robert Gus told reporters here at the Air Force Association’s Air Force Symposium.

“Platt made a great engine that worked very well on the B-52, but it’s nearing the end of its life,” Gas said. “To keep that B-52 viable, we must act now.”

The Air Force announced in September that Boeing, the original manufacturer of the B-52, would be responsible for integrating the new Rolls-Royce engine into the bomber. The first group of modified B-52s will be delivered by the end of 2028.

Digital design technology has also helped streamline the B-52 upgrade process, as well as other modern aircraft builds such as the Boeing T-7A Red Hawk Trainer. ..

According to Gus, the digital design effort is focused on the B-52’s power pods, the four nacelles of the bomber, each holding a pair of engines.

The process began by creating a digital map of the B-52’s system and its capabilities. Once it was available, Gus said, designers created 3D models of aircraft engines and other components. This makes it easier for engineers to see what the design is, how the parts are combined, and how the components at work connect to and influence other parts designed by other teams. I was able to change it.

According to Gus, the process is still in its infancy, but there are case reports that this method allows designers to discover problems such as competing parts early in the process.

Candice Bineyard, director of Rolls-Royce’s defense program, said the two companies are “trading” digital models with each other. This allows engineers to find the “fine-tuning” needed to get the engine to fit exactly inside the B-52 nacelle, or to find the best place to place the newly added components. Is done.

“This is really what we need in this phase, to understand it sooner, not later, before moving to a full-rate production environment,” says Bineyard. “So we are already seeing those benefits.”

In the fourth quarter of this year, Rolls-Royce said it would begin testing engine prototypes at NASA’s Tennis Space Center in Mississippi to see exactly how it works with the B-52 nacelle.

The engineering and manufacturing development phase is expected to continue until 2026, Bineyard said.

She said the new engine can be maintained on the aircraft and does not need to be removed for major repair work. Digital modeling also makes it easy to create clear and accurate manuals for maintainers who keep the engine running, Bineyard said.

According to Gus, re-engagement does more than just keep the B-52 in the air. This improves the range, durability, flexibility of how the Air Force uses the B-52, and reduces fuel and maintenance costs.

According to Gus, when the B-52’s engine is upgraded, so are related subsystems such as power generation and pneumatics. The B-52 will also be equipped with a new cockpit display and digital engine control, new stanchions and structures for the engine pods, and a new aircraft health maintenance system to help the Air Force maintain it for the next 30 years.

According to Gus, modernization will result in additional upgrades in the future to keep it up and running until the 2050s.

Bineyard said the company has shown that it is a low-risk option for the Air Force by using digital technology to differentiate itself from its competitors. She said the F130 is also a “proven” engine with over 29 million hours of flight time, already powering the Air Force’s C-37 and E-11 aircraft.

And as the B-52 approaches the mark of the century, these new engines could be the last one a venerable bomber would have before it finally retired.

“This engine will remain on [the B-52′s] Wings for the life of this aircraft, … well in the 2050s, “Bineyard said.

Stephen Losey is an aerial war reporter for Defense News. He previously reported to the Department of Defense,, which covers special operations and aerial combat. Prior to that, he covered the US Air Force leadership, personnel and operations of the Air Force Times.


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