The program of modernization and resumption of the construction of Tu-160M strategic missile-carrying bombers continues. One of its key components is the project of the upgraded “second series” engine NK-32-02. By now, the engine has been brought to series, and serial products are tested in the air.
News of the year
This year, optimistic news about the project to resume production of NK-32 turbojet engines appeared regularly. So, in February, during the visit of the delegation of the Ministry of Defense to the production of PJSC Kuznetsov, it was announced that the project was proceeding in accordance with the schedule. At the same time, a search was made for ways to speed up the work.
At the Army-2020 forum in August, the United Engine Corporation announced the completion of the manufacture and testing of the first pilot batch of NK-32 engines of the second stage. The products fully comply with the requirements and are accepted by the customer.
By that time, all measures for the preparation of serial production were completed. Moreover, it was launched and the delivery of new NK-32-02 products has already begun. UEC promised to increase the rate of production of engines to meet the requirements of the Tupolev company and the Ministry of Defense.
The finished serial engines were delivered to the Kazan Aviation Plant for installation on modernized aircraft. On November 3, the updated Tu-160M ”Igor Sikorsky” made its first test flight with NK-32-02 engines. This aircraft has been in flight tests since February, but has still flown with the old model’s power plant.
Test flight February 2, 2020 Photo by UAC
The flight lasted 2 hours 20 minutes. and took place at an altitude of 6 thousand meters. The purpose of the flight was to test general aircraft systems and new types of electronic equipment. In addition, the performance of the new engines was appreciated. The flight proceeded normally, there were no comments on the operation of systems and assemblies.
Past and present
Serial production of NK-32 turbojet engines of the first modification was launched in 1983 at the sites of the Kuibyshev NPO Trud. It was carried out exclusively in the interests of building strategic Tu-160 bombers. The assembly of the engines continued until 1993 and essentially stopped with the construction of the aircraft. For 10 years “Trud” has assembled about 250 engines. Due to this, it was possible to equip more than 30 built aircraft and create a solid stock of ready-made engines and spare parts.
Over the next decades, the operation of the Tu-160 was ensured through timely maintenance and repair of engines. As the resource of the engines was depleted, remotorization was carried out. A sharp decrease in the fleet of combat-ready aircraft and a decrease in the intensity of flights after the collapse of the USSR made it possible to somewhat limit the development of a resource and the need for new engines. However, in the future, a discussion began on the restoration of their production – now it has given real results.
The main goal of the recent work was the restoration of production, which had been stopped in the early nineties. For this, it was necessary to reconstruct production facilities, as well as deploy various lines and master new technologies. New principles of production logistics have been introduced. The modernization of production was carried out with the involvement of specialized institutes.
It was also envisaged to update the design of the NK-32, taking into account the latest achievements of science and technology. In this context, new design solutions and modern production technologies were used. Due to such modifications, it was planned to improve the main characteristics of the engine and thereby increase some parameters of the aircraft.
NK-32-02 at the Kuznetsov plant. Shot from shopping mall “Military acceptance”, shopping mall “Zvezda”
According to known data, the modernized NK-32-02 retains all the main features of the architecture and design. It’s still a two-circuit, three-shaft engine; the compressor retains high and medium pressure stages, while the turbine has high, medium and low pressure stages. At the same time, some components have been updated and a modern control system has been used.
The main characteristics remained the same. Afterburner thrust – 25000 kgf. At the same time, due to various modifications, it was possible to reduce fuel consumption by about 10%. It is argued that by increasing the efficiency, the maximum flight range of the Tu-160M will increase by 1000 km or more, depending on the mode. At the same time, there is no need to increase tanks or refuel in flight. Accordingly, the combat potential of the missile carrier is growing.
Prospects of the project
The deliveries of serial NK-32-02 engines began this summer. It is not known how many items the Kazan aircraft plant managed to deliver over the past months. At the same time, it is obvious that at least four engines entered production, i.e. kit for equipping one Tu-160M aircraft. Probably, deliveries continue, and the stock of motors at the plant is growing.
The production of engines is carried out under a 2018 contract, which provides for the delivery of 22 products over the next several years. Its implementation will allow to re-equip five bombers and leave two products in stock.
According to known data, the current plans of the Ministry of Defense provide for the deep modernization of 15 Tu-160 combat bombers to the “M” state. Since then, several aircraft have undergone repairs and upgrades, but only one of them has received serial NK-32-02 engines so far. As the modernization continues, the next machines will receive such engines. Then the remotorization of the previously updated technique is possible.
Compressor of a new engine. Shot from shopping mall “Military acceptance”, shopping mall “Zvezda”
The construction of the new Tu-160M2 series bombers has begun, which will initially be equipped with modern engines. The first of them will take off next year, and nine more will be built in the future.
It is easy to see that the existing contract for the NK-32 engines of the second series is insufficient to fulfill all the planned plans for the modernization and construction of aircraft. So far, only 22 engines have been ordered, while the needs of the aircraft building program in its current form reach 100 units, not counting the stock. This shows that there may be a new order for engines in large quantities in the near future.
It is curious that the prospects of the NK-32-02 are not limited only to the projects of the Tu-160 family. Earlier it was repeatedly reported that on the basis of this engine a new product would be created for use on the promising PAK DA bomber. It was also proposed to make an engine for transport An-124 on the basis of the NK-32.
No weak points
Over the past several decades, programs for the modernization of Tu-160 bombers of one kind or another have been launched several times. Several years ago, a decision was made to resume production of such aircraft. However, all these programs and plans had a weak point – the lack of production of NK-32 engines. When planning the development of long-range aviation, it was necessary to rely only on the available stocks.
The obvious – but very difficult – way out was to restore engine production. The solution to this problem took several years and still led to the desired results. UEC and Kuznetsov not only resumed the production of engines, but also upgraded them to optimize their performance.
As follows from the published data, the rates of production of the NK-32-02 engines are still small, but they are sufficient to fulfill the existing plans for the repair and construction of aviation equipment. Thus, the main problem in the context of the operation and maintenance of the Tu-160 (M) has been successfully resolved, and there is no need to worry about the future of long-range aviation.