Keeping its B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers in the air is definitely a priority for the United States Air Force. To ensure that its valuable birds can keep on flying through 2050, the USAF is replacing their engines with new, more efficient ones. In fact, the USAF has already issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the B-52 Commercial Engine Replacement Program.
B-52 With Modern Commercial Engines
It’s no secret that the B-52 is an old plane with old engines. The newest of the latest B-52 version – the B-52H – was built in 1962. These B-52 bombers are powered by Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3/103 turbofan, which is quite old too; its first run was in 1958 and the last unit was built in 1985. The USAF now wants to replace the aging TF33 turbofans with current technology commercial engines.
To facilitate the commercial engine replacement program, the USAF released a request for proposals to three companies — GE Aviation, Raytheon Technologies (via its Pratt & Whitney unit) and Rolls-Royce. These companies already offer turbofan engines currently in use in modern planes such as Bombardier, Embraer and Gulfstream jets.
Engine Features Listed
The USAF is seeking replacement commercial aircraft engines that should be 30 percent more efficient that the TF33 turbofans. Likewise, the new powerplants should increase the range of the strategic bombers by up to 40 percent. These replacement engines should be reliable enough to last through the remaining lifetime of the B-52H Stratofortress.
To ensure that they can be fitted into the nacelles, the replacement engines should have a size, thrust and weight similar to the Pratt & Whitney TF33s, each of which can deliver 17,000 lbf (75.7 kN).
Interestingly, GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce already have engines to offer. GE Aviation will propose its CF34-10 and Passport engines, while Pratt & Whitney will offer its PW800 powerplant. Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce will put forward its F130 engine, a military variant of its BR700 unit.
608 New B-52 Turbofans
These companies are to submit their proposals for military derivative of a modern commercial engine by July. After reviewing the proposals, the USAF is expected to award a contract in June 2021. The contract would be for eight engines for each of the 76 B-52, or for a total of 608 turbofans. This would be quite a huge deal!