FARNBOROUGH 2008: Durable engines keep on delivering for Rolls-Royce

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With a £7.4 billion ($14.8bn) turnover in 2007 in its four global markets - civil aerospace, defence aerospace, marine and energy - things are looking good for the British aero engine giant Rolls-Royce.

Colin Smith, the company’s director, engineering and technology, believes this broad strategy will help defend R-R from the global economic slow-down and rising oil prices.

The long life of many R -R engines also helps. They may cost a lot of money to develop initially but they have a life cycle of 30, 40 or even 50 years and more, he says. For example, the T56 turboprop engine has been in production since 1954 and more than 18,000 engines have accumulated more than 200 million flying hours.

 rolls-royce colin smith

Operating in around 70 countries, the T56 is likely to remain in service well beyond 2020, powering Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Hercules transport aircraft as well as its P-3 Orion ASW and Grumman’s E-2C Hawkeye early-warning and C-2A Greyhound transport aircraft.

The current production T56 is the 5,250shp Series IV engine used in the Northrop Grumman E-2C+ Hawkeye. This latest version offers 27% more power, 13% less fuel burn, and a significant increase in reliability over even Series III engines. Forthcoming improvements include a FADEC and monitoring system to reduce pilot workload and improve maintainability for the US Navy’s E-2C Advanced Hawkeyes.

With more than 8,200 engineering staff around the world, R-R has the capability both to create new products through advanced R&D, but also to update and upgrade existing turbo machines to make them live more happily with today’s cutting edge and environmentally friendly technology.

The company spent a total of £824m on R&D last year, although a chunk of this came from various international research projects, including the USAF’s adaptive versatile engine technology (ADVENT) and highly efficient embedded turbine engine (HEETE) programmes.

By exploiting technology across its different markets, R-R is able to utilise products that would otherwise be sitting, gathering dust, in aviation museums. The Rolls-Royce Avon – famed for powering the Hawker Hunter, English Electric Canberra, de Havilland Comet, Sud Aviation Caravelle and (in afterburning format) the English Electric Lightning – was designed in the late 1940s - and is still pumping vast quantities of oil and gas through pipelines around the world. This is an excellent illustration of R-R’s ‘invent once, use many times’ philosophy or, as Colin Smith says: “You get a much bigger bang for your buck if you apply technology from aviation to other market sectors.”

In civil aerospace, R-R is still working on the preliminary design of the 10k RB282 engine for the new Dassault Falcon super-mid-size (SMS) business jet that was announced at Le Bourget a year ago. The engine will feature compressor blisks (similar to those in the new Trent XWB – the fastest-selling R-R engine ever) and the first test engine should be ready to run by June 2009.

Rolls-Royce is also working hard on its Trent 1000-based environmentally friendly engine (EFE) demonstrator, which will have cost around $190m by the time it runs next year, helping R-R to move ever closer to the 2020 ACARE targets for fuel burn, NOx emissions and noise.

As well as the EFE programme, R-R’s long-term vision includes Europe’s Clean Skies joint technology initiative which will attract €1.6bn over the coming seven years. This is the programme that is likely to produce a possible engine architecture for the next generation of single-aisle passenger aircraft, whether it’s geared turbofan or open rotor.

Rolls-Royce clearly believes that the latter is a much more likely scenario than the former (currently being developed by Pratt & Whitney) although Smith concedes that the open rotor concept would be likely to create the need for a more radical airframe. He says: “We have an open rotor rig in Holland which is just about to run and work will continue both there and in the UK. It’s all about increasing efficiency and addressing the noise issues that come with this architecture.”

On the subject of alternative fuels, Smith is adamant that R-R will not take part in any demonstrations utilising fuel from non-sustainable sources.

“We have joined one ‘gas to liquid’ demonstration, with Airbus on the A380, but have refused to join another where the fuel was from non-sustainable sources. If the source is sustainable then we will work with them.”