US Air Force glides toward B-52 engine replacement plan
After years of deliberation over whether to buy new engines for the decades-old B-52 bombers, Air Force officials say they are closer than ever to making a decision.
For the past two years, Air Force Global Strike Command has worked with engine manufacturers and financial institutions to put together a business case assessment for replacing the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress’s eight Pratt & Whitney TF33 engines. That assessment shows that an initial investment in new propulsion systems can save maintenance and fuel costs in the long run, but the Air Force’s acquisition wing is still working on the best way to finance the effort, said James Noetzel, deputy chief of the B-52 weapon system team.
“I think we’re farther along than we’ve ever been in any other re-engine effort. I believe it shows a positive business case,” Noetzel said in a January interview. “The devil is in the details in getting all of these tribes lined up and agreeing to do it,” he added, referring to the Air Force, engine makers and financial institutions...
The service’s latest unfunded requirements list for fiscal year 2016 reveals the re-engining effort has become a bigger priority, with $10 million added for a B-52 risk-reduction study.
“I think this year will be the point of some decisions on how or if the program would go forward,” said Scot Oathout, Boeing’s director of bomber programs. “I think it all hinges on, in these fiscally challenging times, can we afford a program like this or can you come up with different ways of financing or paying for the program? So I think those discussions are going to be coming to a head during this year.”
The Air Force’s current thinking is to replace the TF33 with eight modern regional jet engines that hew closely to the size, weight and thrust of the original [CF-34? http://www.geaviation.com/commercial/engines/cf34/ h/t Steve Daly], thus minimizing any structural redesign to the B-52’s wings, Noetzel said. The service has issued two requests for information (RFI) to engine manufacturers, gleaning performance and technical information about potential options, which it then fed into its assessment...