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USAF C-130 Completes First Flight With Enhanced Rolls-Royce T56 Turboprop Engine
By Jim Douglas

September 18, 2012  - Rolls-Royce and the US Air Force are conducting flight tests for an enhancement for the T56 turboprop engine, which powers the C-130H transport aircraft. The Series 3.5 Engine Enhancement is designed to deliver fuel savings and reliability improvements, resulting in improved life cycle costs.  

The first C-130H test aircraft began flying recently at Edwards Air Force Base, CA. The Series 3.5 Engine Enhancement has already demonstrated greater than 8 percent fuel burn improvement in ground tests, using proven technologies from other Rolls-Royce commercial and military engines, including new blade and vane materials and advanced turbine airfoil aerodynamic designs.


The Series 3.5 will also improve performance in ‘hot and high’ conditions. A key feature was the introduction of the T56 turboprop, first developed specifically for the C-130. At the time, the turboprop was a new application of turbine engines that used exhaust gases to turn a shafted propeller, which offered greater range at propeller-driven speeds compared to pure turbojets, which were faster but thirstier.  

As was the case on helicopters of that era, such as the UH-1 Huey, turboshafts produced much more power for their weight than piston engines. Lockheed would subsequently use the same engines and technology in the Lockheed L-188 Electra. That aircraft failed financially in its civilian configuration but was successfully adapted into the Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrol and submarine attack aircraft where the efficiency and endurance at high propeller speeds of turboprops excelled. 

Tom Bell, Rolls-Royce, President, Customer Business – Defense, said, “We look forward to carrying out flight tests to confirm what we have already demonstrated in the test cell – significant savings in fuel costs, improved reliability and performance. Rolls-Royce has invested to help the US Air Force and other operators around the world meet their goal of reducing fuel costs, while also extending the life of the C-130 fleet and potentially saving billions of dollars.”  

The Series 3.5 Engine Enhancement program is expected to enable the USAF to continue to operate its C-130H fleet until 2040, and a USAF analysis estimated its long-term savings from the Series 3.5 enhancements could reach $2 Billion.



The engine improvements can be accomplished as part of a conventional engine overhaul, and do not require any aircraft or engine control system modifications. Each C-130 aircraft has four Rolls-Royce T56 engines, with approximately 220 C-130H models eligible for upgrades. The Series 3.5 program will help the Air Force to achieve its goal of reducing consumption of aviation fuel by 10 percent by 2015.  

The T56/501-D turboprops have been installed on a wide variety of propeller-driven aircraft, including Lockheed Martin's ubiquitous C-130 Hercules and L-100 transports, Northrop Grumman's E-2 Hawkeye early warning aircraft and Lockheed's P-3 Orion anti-submarine warfare aircraft. The Convair 580 and Lockheed Electra are still in commercial passenger and cargo service around the world. 

It was originally developed by the Allison Engine Company (The Allison T56) for the Lockheed C-130 transport entering production in 1954. It is now produced under Rolls-Royce which acquired Allison in 1995. The commercial version is designated 501-D. With an unusually long and numerous production run, over 18,000 engines have been produced since 1954. It has logged over 200 million flying hours. The T56 is a single shaft, modular design military turboprop with a 14 stage axial flow compressor driven by a four stage turbine.
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