The B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range, jet-powered strategic bomber capable of performing close-air support, strategic attack, offensive counter-air, air interdiction, and maritime operations. It can fly at high subsonic speeds at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) and is able to carry up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons.
It has a typical combat range of more than 8,800 miles (14,080 km) without aerial refueling and can provide nuclear or precision-guided conventional ordnance with worldwide precision navigation capability.
Built by Boeing, the B-52 has been in service with the USAF since the 1950s. In 1996, Rolls-Royce and Boeing proposed equipping each bomber with four leased Rolls-Royce RB211-535 engines in order to cut down costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance aircraft range and endurance. However, due to funding issues, the re-engining was delayed.
It took decades for the program to finally progress. In April 2020, the USAF released a request for proposals for 608 commercial engines, as well as spares and support equipment. The CERP has seen General Electric propose its CF34-10 and Passport turbofans, Pratt and Whitney its PW800, and Rolls Royce, the F130.
“The B-52 CERP is a complex upgrade that not only updates the aircraft with new engines but updates the flight deck area, struts, and nacelles,” says Brig. Gen. John Newberry, Air Force bombers program executive officer.
Now, the program has reached another significant milestone, as the USAF selected Rolls-Royce to replace the old engines on its bomber fleet with the new F130. This decision is not surprising given Rolls-Royce’s long and proven record of supplying the power to protect the U.S. military, having provided hundreds of engines to the USAF over the past 70 years.
A model of the Rolls-Royce engine used to power the iconic B-52 is already in service with the USAF, powering both the C-37 and E-11 BACN aircraft. So far, the new F130 and its commercial family of engines have accumulated more than 27 million engine flight hours.
It’s a reliable engine with high mission readiness and low maintenance requirements. Once deployed, the F130 is capable of staying on the wing for the duration of the B-52’s intended lifespan. Furthermore, it will offer increased fuel efficiency, extended range, and minimized tanker aircraft requirements.
Rolls-Royce plans to produce and test the F130 engines at its plant in Indianapolis, Indiana. This follows the recent completion of a $600 million investment to breathe life into the advanced manufacturing campus, providing some of the most technologically advanced manufacturing facilities.
The F130 will replace the old TF33-PW-103 engine, which has powered the B-52 since the 1960s and is expected to be no longer functional by 2030. Boeing, the B-52’s original equipment manufacturer, will be in charge of integrating the engines into the aircraft.
“The B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program is the most important and comprehensive upgrade to the B-52 in over half a century,” said Maj. Gen. Jason Armagost, director of Strategic Plans, Programs, and Requirements. “The B-52 is the workhorse of the nation’s bomber force, and this modification will allow the B-52 to continue its critical conventional and standoff mission into 2050’s.”
By the end of 2025, the first two completely upgraded B-52s are expected to perform ground and flight testing. The USAF expects the first lot of operational B-52s outfitted with the new engines to be delivered by the end of 2028, with the whole fleet upgraded by 2035.