A pair of WP-3D 'Hurricane Hunter' aircraft will become the first to fly the Rolls-Royce T56 Series 3.5 engine enhancement package. (NOAA)
WASHINGTON — Rolls-Royce has secured the first customer for its T56 Series 3.5 engine enhancement, the company announced Tuesday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will equip the enhanced engine on its WP-3D “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, a modified P-3 Orion aircraft equipped with sensors that NOAA pilots fly into the heart of massive storms in order to gather meteorological data. The agency will purchase 10 engines, covering two aircraft and spares.
“We are thrilled that the NOAA ‘Hurricane Hunters’ will be the first to fly with our T56 Series 3.5 engine enhancement,” Tom Bell, Rolls-Royce president for Defense, said in a news release. “As NOAA goes about its crucial mission of keeping the public safe and enriching lives through science, we will work to keep their aircraft flying longer, while conserving fuel and lowering maintenance costs.”
The Series 3.5 engine enhancement retrofits parts from newer engines into the Series 3 engine casing, replacing aging and inefficient components. These include compressor seals from Rolls’ Series 4 engine and uncooled turbine blades from the Rolls AE-1107C design.
While the NOAA deal is a milestone for the upgrade, Rolls has larger ambitions for the program. The company is eyeing market opportunities in the global C-130H fleet, which is equipped with older models of the T56 engine.
Rolls estimates that the engine upgrades will extend the life of the C-130H fleet to 2040, and an Air Force study has found it could save the service as much as $2 billion.
Tom Hartmann, senior vice president for Rolls-Royce, told Defense News there are “certainly hundreds of aircraft” that could use the upgrade, both domestically and internationally.
The company expects to have final sign-off from the Air Force by the end of November for potential installations into the USAF C-130H fleet, which would be a huge boon to the company — if the service can find the funding.
“We’re looking hard to try and find a way to get the upgrade into those aircraft,” Hartmann said. But fiscal realities are tight at the moment, and “thus far, the upgrade has not made it onto the top list of things that have cleared the budget hurdles.”
In the meantime, international partners will likely wait until the USAF makes a decision on whether to begin equipping the new engine design.