C-130H Hercules drop heavy equipment payloads April 18, 2014, over South Korea, during exercise Max Thunder. Rolls-Royce and the US Air Force are discussing engine upgrades for the aircraft. (Capt. Raymond Geoffroy/ / US Air Force)
LONDON — The US Air Force has certified engine maker Rolls-Royce and its Series 3.5 engine upgrade for use on the service’s C-130H fleet, the company announced Wednesday.
Rolls is in preliminary discussions with the Air Force and expects to be on contract in roughly six to nine months on the upgrades, which company officials say will increase the lifespan and fuel efficiency of the aging transport aircraft.
Robert Settle, Rolls’ vice president for US Air Force programs, said the company is eyeing 2015-2016 for initial installations and noted that it has begun low-rate initial production on the upgrade kits ahead of that expected contract.
The Series 3.5 engine enhancement would replace inefficient components on older engines by retrofitting parts from newer engines into the Series 3 T56 engine casing, used on the C-130H and other planes.
Among the parts involved are compressor seals from Rolls’ Series 4 engine and uncooled turbine blades from the Rolls AE-1107C design. Rolls says because the retrofit uses existing technologies and can occur during routine maintenance of the older engines it provides a cheaper alternative to replacing older engines outright.
Rolls estimates 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.
The program netted its first customer last November when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) adopted the Series 3.5 upgrade for two P-3 “Hurricane Hunter” surveillance aircraft, which uses the same engine as the C-130H.
As the US Air Force looks more toward the modernized C-130J model, the C-130H market has shifted toward US Guard and reserve components, although the older model remains popular among international customers.
Rolls will be touting the engine enhancement at next week’s Farnborough International Airshow, held outside of London. The show could provide an opportunity to connect with the large international customer base that operates aircraft with the Series 3 T56 engine.
“There is certainly strong international interest in the benefits of the T56 Series 3.5 package for both C-130 and P-3 aircraft and we are always ready to talk about it,” Settle said. “Continued progress in the US, with the Air Force moving forward and NOAA test flights complete, will keep that interest high and demonstrate the benefits of this upgrade.”
Bringing international customers on board may prove important if Rolls is to build a base for this enhancement. While the Air Force has certified the program and shown interest in moving ahead with it, sequestration-imposed budget cuts remain on the horizon for 2016.
Settle said the company “remains optimistic” that the program will survive the next round of budget fights, pointing toward the $15.7 million in funding included in the budget request for fiscal 2014. ■