Jet engine testing at the Rolls-Royce Outdoor Jet Engine Testing Facility at Stennis Space Center has been going almost nonstop for months. The company cut the ceremonial ribbon last October on the second of its outdoor test stands, which represents a $50 million investment, and is filling the last of the 35 jobs that the new test stand created.
“Ever since the grand opening we’ve had one or two engines running pretty much nonstop,” said Anthony Woodard, the facility’s general manager. Engine tests run 24 hours, five or up to seven days a week, so Rolls-Royce maintains a sizable fuel farm to keep the engines running. “We keep the fuel trucks coming,” Woodard said. The tests provide engineers with performance information by simulating every step of a flight, from the aircraft pulling out of the hangar to takeoff, cruising and landing. “The whole idea is to keep the engines running as long as we can so we can improve our product,” he said.
Jet engines are key to the Rolls-Royce business portfolio and the Stennis facility is its only outdoor jet engine test site. “It gives us a unique testing capability,” said Woodard.
The Stennis site also is unique because it can perform noise testing and crosswind testing. The noise testing can detect minute changes in the sound the engine makes and the precise measurements help Rolls-Royce produce engines that are quieter and more fuel efficient. “We are constantly trying to reduce noise, make the engines more efficient and with less impact to the environment,” he said.
For crosswind testing, he said, “We have a very large piece of equipment that effectively simulates a high velocity of wind across the engine. You can’t do that with an indoor engine test.”
The Stennis site opened in 2007 as one of three Rolls-Royce test sites in the world and the first in the U.S. to conduct specialized development engine testing including thrust reverse and endurance testing on all current Rolls-Royce engine types.
“There are a lot of reasons that we are here,” Woodard said, Including the protective buffer zone that surrounds Stennis and the weather, notwithstanding hurricanes. “On the Gulf Coast we have temperate climate throughout the year and better opportunities to do outdoor tests.”
Most of the engines are produced in the United Kingdom and also in Germany and at other Rolls Royce sites across the globe. When their Stennis testings is complete, “we send them back where they came from for deeper inspections or they are repurposed to do more tests at some other location.”
Current testing is being done on the company’s newest Trent XWB engines, which will go into production later this year.
Rolls-Royce names its engines after rivers nearby where they are manufactured. The River Trent is near its Derby, England, facility.
The Trent 1000 powers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Trent XWB powers the Airbus A350 XWB.
“The Trent is very important for our business. Fifty percent of our global production is in civil large engines so it’s a key part of Rolls-Royce’s business,” he said. Civil engines are the largest segment of the market, followed by defense, energy and marine.
Airbus, Boeing and other customers dispatch their officials and engineers to observe the testing at Stennis. “We do have a lot of customer involvement at the site,” he said.
Engines are delivered to Rolls-Royce at Stennis by land, sea or air. “It depends on the engine type, where it’s coming from and how critical the test is,” he said. “Getting the engine here quickly for our customers is very critical.”
Some larger lines including the Trent WXB will not fit on conventional aircraft, so they tend to be transported by the Antonov, the largest cargo plane in the world, which lands at the nearby Stennis International Airport. Others can fit inside 747 freighters.
Woodard said the test schedule at Stennis is full for the next two to three years. “We have a lot of testing to do,” he said.