Rolls-Royce McVay on Program to Re-Engine USAF’s B-52 Bomber Fleet


Craig McVay, the senior vice president for military strategic systems at Rolls-Royce North America, discusses the company’s proposal to re-engine the US Air Force’s fleet of Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Air Force Association’s 2019 Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando. Our coverage was sponsored by Leonardo DRS and L3 Technologies.

Vago Muradian:  Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report.  I’m Vago Muradian here in Orlando, Florida for the Air Force Association’s Annual Air Warfare Symposium, the number one winter gathering of the U.S. Air Force leaders, industry executives, analysts, thought leaders and media here in Florida.  Our coverage here is sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.

We’re over here on the Rolls Royce stand to talk to Craig McVay, Senior Vice President for Strategic Systems at Rolls Royce.  Sir, it’s always a pleasure seeing you.  Good to catch up.  Having a good show so far?

Craig McVay:  Excellent show.  We’ve had quite a bit of exposure, good opportunities to tell our story with the Air Force leadership, and certainly with some of the up and coming Air Force leadership, the young junior officers, the men and women that will be leading us tomorrow.  So it’d a big deal.

Mr. Muradian:  Absolutely outstanding.  We had a great conversation with General Spencer, and it’s really different, the character of this event, for example, compared with Air, Space and Cyber, which is much more general officer/colonel grade.  Whereas here you see a lot enlisted folks, you see a lot of NCOs and you see a lot of junior officers.

Mr. McVay:  And university students as well.  It’s a great opportunity to tell them about Rolls Royce, tell them our story, and tell them how we’re contributing certainly to the Department of Defense and more specifically to the Air Force.

Mr. Muradian:  As stand displays go, you guys apparently are the winner.  You guys have a half-scale B-52 engine nacelle, absolutely fantastic.  But obviously it’s one of the more important competitions that are going on.  The Air Force has talked roughly about $9 billion in terms of re-engining the B-52 fleet.  Right now it’s Pratt & Whitney, TF33 powered.  Once upon a time it powered almost everything in the Air Force with a foundational engine, whether it was for 141s or KC-135s.

Let’s talk a little bit about the competition and where it stands.  Right?  You’re looking at a study getting started next  — from your perspective, where are we?  And more importantly, you and I were talking before this, how the program, the Air Force really wants to use this program to do things differently.  It’s one of the programs that Dr. Roper has focused on. Talk to us a little bit about what’s going to be happening and where you think, because you had an innovative take on how you think this is going to be playing out.

Mr. McVay:  First of all I would say the Air Force is pursuing in production a new commercial, off-the-shelf engine solution for replacement of the TF33.  That in and of itself is unique.  I mean we’re talking about part of the nuclear triad. This nuclear bomber that has been in operation now for several decades, with the expectation that it’s going to fly for several more decades.  But the idea is to go out and identify the right commercial, off-the-shelf engine that is available, that meets all the requirements, can be easily integrated — I say easily, but will be integrated into the B-52 platform as a system, an entire system, and can accommodate all the requirements that that platform will need in the way of power offtake, in the way of thrust, and so forth.  Time on wing, proven reliability.  And I’ll talk to that in a minute.

So for Rolls Royce’s part, we’re offering the F130.  The F130 entered into service — it’s a commercial engine that entered into service back in the 2012 time frame and it’s part of a much larger family of engines.  The F130 that’s flying today on the airports, it’s on the E-11 Bacon aircraft, it’s on the C-37 aircraft, it’s going to be on the ECX aircraft, Gulfstream products.  The E11 of course is Bombardier, but those are platforms that are flying it now. And that family has got over 22 million hours of operational time, flight time.  That is proven reliability.

For this engine it’s, as I said, been in production, in existence now for over six years, has got over 700,000 plus hours on it.  So that’s the kind of thing that we think is going to be important to the Air Force, something that works.

The second thing I would say is that it’s what we would call the perfect fit.  If you were to ask me to build an engine today to provide for the B-52, and I would look at the specs and what’s required for that platform so that it pretty much meets the requirements in thrust and so forth, I would have built that engine.  I mean as far as the fan diameter, the current thrust, the capabilities — albeit it’s got a FADEC electronic engine control capability as opposed to a hydromechanical fuel control for the TF33.  But those kinds of requirements are certainly going to be very, very competitive for this offering.

So we’re excited about that.  You touched on it a moment ago, and that was this rapid prototyping, Section 804.  We listened very clearly to the Secretary of the Air Force, to Dr. Roper as the Service Acquisition Executive, and certainly to the B-52 SPO, propulsion SPO.  They’re very focused on a rapid prototyping solution.  So they can do what they need to do as far as identifying it, developing it, and get it into the service in a very short period of time.  Certainly shorter than the more traditional approach in acquisition that we’ve seen in the past.

What’s unique about this particular effort, as I mentioned to you earlier, this is engine company against engine company.  This doesn’t involve primes and so forth.  This is up against what have you got, how can you integrate it, what’s your solution, and is it the right one?  And Dr. Roper’s idea is let’s use rapid prototyping to identify that solution early, let’s find it, let’s get after it, and let’s get it into the system.

Mr. Muradian:  It is back to the future, or future to the back or however you want to put it.  This is an old-timey competition where you’re getting the engine suppliers together and not letting the prime do the selecting of it.  The service is going to select it, you’re going to integrate it on.

You mentioned something about electromechanical control.  One, that’s what the technology allowed at the time —

Mr. McVay:  Hydromechanical.

Mr. Muradian:  Hydromechanical, excuse me.  But that was also a nuclear requirement to make sure that whatever happens in the nuclear blast in an EMT environment, the aircraft is still going to operate. There was a little bit of a debate and discussion about whether something that has fully digital flight controls is going to be acceptable.

How does that work? Because the B-52 is going to remain a swing roll airplane that is going to span the nuclear mission to the conventional mission.  What do you need to hear from the Air Force at this point?  Because my understanding is the information that you’re getting is coming from the contractor which is commercially available as opposed to something which is coming from the Air Force.  Do you have any sense at this point how, what the state of discussion is on that requirement which could be a very, very important requirement at the end of the day?

Mr. McVay:  While we’re still waiting to gain a little bit more granularity in the specific nuclear requirements that are coming out of the SPO, we do know that there are engines operating today on the bomber fleet, whether it’s a B-1, a B-2, and certainly the one in production now, the B-21, all have nuclear hardening requirements, cyber requirements, and so it’s clearly a situation of making sure that we’re receiving from the Air Force the specific requirements that they want with regard to nuclear hardening.  All of the offerings for this engine competition are commercial engines.  All of them will require some degree of nuclear hardening, whether it’s the FADEC, it’s any of the controls or any of the things that are associated with it, they’re going to require some type of nuclear hardening.  And so what we are all anxious to see is the actual requirement captured so that we can get after it.

We know rapid prototyping very well, we’ve done that for a long time.  We are very capable in digital engineering as far as design, and certainly the manufacturing side.  So we’re very confident that we can accommodate what those requirements will be.  It’s just making sure that we hear what the Air Force wants and then we go after it.  All of these commercial engines are going to require some degree of change.

Mr. Muradian:  Let me also ask you, time on wing, but also fuel burn efficiency.  At this point what can you tell us in terms of what the characteristics or the selling points or the efficiencies you think you guys are going to be delivering with the F130?

Mr. McVay:  Let me just say it will be very competitive.  When we look at the TF33 today, and it’s been quite the work horse for the B-52 fleet, our offering is going to be an order of magnitude significantly better and you would expect that when you look at some of the engineering that’s gone into the fan, the compressor, and certainly the turbine section.  These are 21stcentury engines.  There’s an expectation, of course, that you realize considerable efficiencies in the way of specific fuel consumption.

So we know all the offerings are going to be competitive.  We believe ours will be.  Where do we break out as far as the others go?  It could be in digital design, it could be in digital manufacturing. Certainly it’s in proven reliability because this comes from a family of engines, and it’s currently in the inventory. So we think that’s pretty compelling.

Mr. Muradian:  Craig, thanks very much.  It’s always a pleasure talking to you.  Best of luck in the competition.  It’s certainly a competitive field.  Three companies that know engines really well.  You guys, obviously GE and Pratt & Whitney.  So it’s going to be fascinating.  And you think the Air Force is going to stay on its down-select decision which is next year?

Mr. McVay:  When we look at the Air Force schedule we know that we would expect, anyway, some type of a draft RFP to come out later on in this year, but we also know that there’s a rapid prototyping activity that’s going on and that certainly gives Dr. Roper and General Collins at the PEO level, it gives those gentlemen an opportunity to explore what engines are really the front-runners and how they would go after them.

So we think we’re very well positioned to compete in that regard.  We’re certainly going to be positioned when it comes time for source selection.

Mr. Muradian:  Craig McVay.  Thanks very much again, sir.

Mr. McVay:  My pleasure.  Take care.


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