January 21, 2019

Re-Engining the B-52

By John A. Tirpak

The B-52 is supposed to serve through 2050. To last that long, it needs new power.

The last B-52 rolled off the production line in 1962. If Air Force plans hold up, the B-52 will be approaching nearly a century of service by 2050. To keep the airplane flying, the service plans to equip each B-52 with new engines, which are expected to be so much more maintainer-friendly and efficient that they’ll pay for themselves in just 10 years.

The Air Force is also looking at the B-52 re-engining as a pathfinder program to explore ways to speed up contracting. Instead of an elaborate, paper-intensive comparison of candidate engines—in which the government makes educated guesses about capability—the service plans to conduct a “digital fly-off” between power plants, using computer simulations. This virtual fly-off will compare engines for fuel efficiency, maintenance requirements, and performance under a wide variety of conditions.

“I think we’re going to learn a lot from this program,” Air Force acquisition chief William Roper said in September. “Digital engineering is a much better way to assess [options] than a paper input with a lot of government expertise trying to fill in the gaps. Let’s just simulate the system and pick.”