This jet really flies
Raytheon runs flying test bed that puts jet engines through their paces
There's no beverage service on this airliner. No flight attendants, either. And forget the in-flight entertainment.
“You definitely won’t see ‘The Emoji Movie’ on the screen on this 747,” said Raytheon program manager William Thomas.
That’s because this special 747 is a flying test bed for Rolls-Royce’s newest jet engine, which is being built for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Rolls-Royce and Raytheon have been testing the engine, known as the Trent 1000, since 2012, logging more than 546 flight hours on nine test engines. From Tucson, Arizona, Raytheon provides all the maintenance performed on the Rolls-Royce flying test bed and operates the aircraft with an experienced 747 flight crew, including pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and Thomas, who serves as test director.
The airliner sports three standard engines; the fourth engine, in the number-two slot, is the Trent 1000 TEN.
“The wing had to be strengthened, the strut had to be beefed up and the pylon modified to accommodate the much larger engine,” said Thomas, a former Navy aviator who has flown everything from F-4s to F-18s. “With the Trent’s 70,000 pounds of thrust, we also have to accommodate for the extra power on takeoffs and landings.”
Instead of passenger seats, the interior is stuffed with electronics and instrumentation to gather data on the engine’s performance. A separate hydraulic system and racks of avionics had to be added to mimic the systems aboard a 787.
The test engines are installed on the inboard pylon of the aircraft, which is also equipped with extensive instrumentation to allow for sophisticated measurements to be taken of engine performance in flight. Use of the flying test bed ensures that the engine is mature and ready for intensive test operations on the aircraft it will power in service.
“Our job is to ensure the operability, survivability and safety of the engine,” Thomas said. “When we do our testing, we push the engine to its limits. I want to make sure if the pilot is ever put on the spot that the product is reliable. And I want to make sure the engine is safe before it's shipped off and passengers fly with them.”