The U.S. Air Force has funded flight tests of upgraded Rolls-Royce T56 engines on a Lockheed Martin C-130H aimed at increasing reliability and service life as well as cutting fuel consumption by around 8%.

The T56-15 Series 3.5 “enhancement” kit is expected to undergo tests at Edwards AFB, Calif., around mid-2012. Originally launched in response to U.S. government calls for reduced dependence on foreign oil, the upgrade is expected to contribute to the Air Force’s target of reducing aviation fuel usage by 10% by 2015. Rolls unveiled first details of the effort in 2009, and at the time hoped to see flight tests begin in early 2011. However, funding issues prevented the start of testing until this year.

The upgrade includes remanufactured compressor blades; single-crystal, first-stage, high-pressure turbine blades; and aerodynamically redesigned blades and vanes throughout the low-pressure turbine. The turbine upgrade is designed to increase component life by around 30% and, according to an Air Force analysis, could contribute to overall long-term savings of $3.5 billion over the lifetime of the fleet.

The upgrade, which can be accomplished as part of a standard overhaul, does not require any aircraft or engine control system modifications and could be installed on up to 220 C-130Hs. The kit is also expected to be made available for international C-130 users at a later stage and could potentially be adapted for the T56-14 version that powers the P-3 maritime patrol aircraft.

Rolls-Royce says the kit will enable the C-130H to continue in operation until 2040 while improving reliability and “hot and high” performance. The upgrade is expected to increase the range of the C-130H with a 20,000-lb. payload to more than 3,180 nm, from 2,845 nm compared with a standard Series 3-powered aircraft under identical conditions.

Rolls-Royce is building a $42 million advanced manufacturing facility in Indianapolis to produce components for the T56 series as well as the AE and commercial engine families. The new facility, which will employ more than 100 workers when fully operational in 2014, also will produce stators for the Trent XWB.