By Libby Haydel, LSU Communications

BATON ROUGE, La. — As part of their senior capstone project, six LSU Mechanical Engineering seniors have designed an apparatus that will enable Airmen to more easily work on or change out the engines for their fleet of B-52 bombers.

The B-52 offers the long-range strike capability for Air Force Global Strike Command, headquartered at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Considering each B-52 has eight engines, and Barksdale AFB houses 26 B-52s, the students’ design will definitely come in handy.

When ME seniors Vaughn Bell of Ponchatoula, La.; Seth Chiasson of Denham Springs, La., Matthew Day of Slaughter, La.; Sydney Gambino of Madisonville, La.; Stephen Freemen of Katy, Texas, and Ryan Purvis of Mandeville, La., saw they had an opportunity to work on a project involving an 185-ft. wide B-52, they jumped at the chance.

“When it came time to choose my capstone project, I was excited as soon as I saw B-52 on the project list and immediately knew that was my top choice,” team lead Bell said.

“What I’ve enjoyed most about this project is getting the chance to say I’ve designed and worked on something for the B-52 engine,” Freeman said. “I don’t know who wouldn’t find that interesting.”

The opportunity was administered by the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC) via its partnership with Air Force Global Strike Command. They worked with their partners at Barksdale AFB to have students see the B-52 engine in person to take measurements and photos to help them design their engine stand.

The Air Force’s request was that they design something lighter and more compactable than their current stand, which resembles a boat trailer and takes up much-needed room on the C-17 plane that flies alongside the B-52, carrying necessary cargo such as two spare engines.

The students’ design consists of four 3-ft.-high jack-stands that form a 4.5-ft. by 10.5-ft. rectangle supporting four aluminum I-beams on each corner and two long steel tubes that will hold two 80-lb. adapters 125 inches apart that ultimately touch and support the engine. The whole stand will hold up to 6,000 lbs., the estimated weight of a single B-52 engine.

“The engine has very specific points where it can be attached to the adapter, so our design must support the weight of the engine and interface with the adapter,” Bell said.

The students tested their stand at Reeb Rigging in Baton Rouge, La., where they were able to load 6,000 lbs. on their stand. The students also worked with Brock Group in Port Allen, La., who did some welding for the stand while the students themselves cut the materials to size in the LSU Advanced Manufacturing and Machining Facility (AAMF) across from Patrick F. Taylor Hall.

The team also performed a timed test to make sure their stand could be assembled in 15 minutes or less. When disassembled, the entire stand fits into a 24x60x24-inch D box that goes on the C-17 plane to hold a damaged engine should it need to be replaced. While the C-17 carries a spare engine for the left and right side of the B-52, the B-52 itself carries eight engines at a time (up to 48,000 lbs.) in pods supported by four pylons beneath the wings’ leading edge. Their placement allows them to work as wing fences and delay the onset of a stall.

While the original B-52A models in the 1950s were equipped with turbo jets with 10,000 pounds-force, the B-52H model that was delivered to the U.S. Air Force in 1961 had cleaner burning, quieter engines with a maximum thrust of 17,100 pounds-force. According to Gambino, every B-52 will have the new Rolls Royce engine design by 2050, which means the team’s new stand design could be used for decades to come.

The B-52 bomber was designed and built by Boeing and has been operated by the U.S. Air Force since the 1950s and was used by NASA for more than 40 years. It was created during the Cold War era to carry nuclear weapons and was built to stay in the air for more than 72 hours at a time. 

“The thing I enjoyed most about this project was that I already had a connection with my teammates prior to this group being formed,” Bell said. “Being able to work with friends makes communication within the team much easier and an overall more enjoyable experience.”