B-52 engine battle

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La., and WASHINGTON — After several months of delays, the U.S. Air Force is hoping to release a request for proposals for new B-52 bomber engines by the end of 2019, once the service gets the chance to solidify its solicitation and answer congressional concerns.

But at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, B-52 maintainers are hungry for new motors that will hopefully lessen the time it takes to diagnose and fix engine problems.

“If I was to prioritize the systems from a maintainer’s point of view, in my personal opinion — not the Air Force’s obviously — but [replacing] the engines first and foremost” would have the most positive impact on the maintenance community, said Lt. Col. Tiffany Arnold, 2nd Maintenance Squadron commander. Arnold spoke with journalist and Defense News contributor Jeff Bolton during a visit to Barksdale AFB.

Each B-52 uses eight TF33 engines to fly, which means maintainers spend a lot of time ensuring each engine functions properly. And when more than one engine needs repairs, that entails more work for the personnel that are already performing multiple assessments, Arnold said.

The Air Force believes it can reduce fuel burn and cut down the number of hours needed to maintain the B-52 by swapping the TF33s with eight new, off-the-shelf engines.

It’s a discussion that’s been going on for more than 30 years, said Alan Williams, deputy B-52 program element monitor with Air Force Global Strike Command.

“The B-52 was going to be retired in 1996, and then the date slid to 2000, then it slid to 2003, then it went finally to 2040 and now it’s 2050,” he said in an August interview. “The extended life has finally given us the green light for upgrades we’ve been looking at for 20 or 30 years but could never get funded.”

The RFP, which was originally scheduled for release in March, has been pushed to the end of 2019, he added. A contract award to a single engine manufacturer is scheduled about a year later. Once that happens, the winning engine will move through a typical design and test phase, culminating in the integration of new engines on two B-52s for flight tests around 2023 or 2024.

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