Behind the scenes at Rolls-Royce’s jet-engine testing facility in Mississippi

Sep 10, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

On a steamy, unsettled summer afternoon in Mississippi, the first thing I saw as I approached the John C. Stennis Space Center was what looked like a NASA-branded toll booth. I felt like I was going into a theme park, but all the security reminders at the check-in desk in the visitor’s center told me otherwise.

(Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

I was here to visit Rolls-Royce’s jet-engine testing facility, one of just three such places. The property had originally been designed for NASA’s horizontal rocket tests, but it was decommissioned for that purpose and eventually leased to Rolls-Royce, which began operations there in 2007.

After checking in and driving through a labyrinth of empty roads as part of clearing security, I knew I was close when I saw this sign:

Jet blast warning road sign. (Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

Before seeing any of the facility, I had to watch a safety video about foreign object debris (FOD). Honestly, it was a masterpiece. It had an ’80s slasher-flick aesthetic and FOD was characterized as a demon to be avoided at all costs. I wasn’t planning on using any tools or workplace machinery that might generate FOD, but it was reassuring to know that Rolls-Royce takes safety so seriously. I also had to don protective gear including these “clown shoes”, which turned my own footwear into steel-toed boots for the day.

Protective “clown shoes.” (Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

According to Dan Lyon, general manager of the Stennis Outdoor Test Facility, the British company moved its engine tests here from a location outside of Derby, England, because the town was undergoing development that brought housing much closer to the test sites. The new neighbors quickly found the jet-engine blasts a nuisance and the company needed to find a more remote location for its tests.

British and American flags side-by-side in the control room of a Rolls Royce jet engine test bed. (Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

In Mississippi, Rolls-Royce has already grown, adding a second test bed at the site in 2013. The company now conducts noise tests at Stennis, along with maturity and cycle tests on engine components like thrust reversers.

The arena used for noise tests is pictured below. Microphones there are protected by white pyramid-like housings, and are so sensitive that they can pick up the sound of a cricket chirping even while a test engine is operating at full power. In order to mitigate data anomalies, flat surfaces like lamp and fence posts are angled away from the mikes, which prevents sound wave reflections from affecting the results.

(Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

This device, known as the “golf ball,” is used during virtually every noise test. It’s mounted to the front of the engine undergoing testing and helps tamp down the wind, which can affect noise levels.

(Photo courtesy of Rolls Royce)

If necessary, Rolls-Royce can also simulate more wind than is naturally available using this wind generator.

(Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

Engine tests at Stennis have to happen in specific weather conditions. Too much wind, especially, can affect the data that’s captured during the test. But this device (the large cylinder/cone in the center of the picture), called an inlet flow conditioner, can help extend the weather envelope for testing.

(Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

While I was visiting the facility, unsettled weather triggered lightning warnings at regular intervals. Because Stennis is mostly outdoors, if lightning gets too close to the area, employees working on projects outside need to pause and take shelter.

The noise test bed was not in use during my visit but the maturity test bed was. In here, safe from any possible lightning strikes, the crew was working on resolving an oil leak issue with a test engine. Once that problem was solved, they’d go on testing the thrust reversers.

Maturity test bed control room. (Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

The wall you see next to the engine on the upper right and top center screens in this picture prevents the thrust-reversed airflow from being reingested by the engine, which could affect the data.

(Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

Before an engine can go out for testing, and again when the testing is wrapping up, it first has to be processed by the prep shop.

Here, it’s made ready for testing and then taken apart again when the testing is complete. Two engines were in the shop during my visit: a Trent 7000 for Airbus, which uses it on the A330neo, and a Trent 1000 for Boeing, which uses it on the 787.

(Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

Although the engine is supplied by Rolls-Royce, the external components, like the intake and the cowling, are provided by other manufacturers. Here, the inlet was supplied by Airbus and the cowling by Safran.

(Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

 

(Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

Boeing, too, provides its own parts, including the now-iconic scalloped cowling.

Trent 1000 engine with open cowling. (Photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy)

These engines are huge, by the way. For reference, here I am in front of one.

(Photo by Donald Campbell/Rolls Royce)

The facility runs essentially 24/7, since some of the tests have to happen overnight.

Related: Sign up for our daily newsletter to get the latest news and frequent-flyer info delivered right to your in-box

Featured photo by Zach Wichter/The Points Guy

Correction: The story has been updated to reflect that Rolls-Royce leases the Stennis property from NASA, to correctly reference a piece of equipment called an inlet flow conditioner, which was previously referred to as an inlet flow container and to reflect that, while an XWB engine was undergoing maturity tests during the visit, a Trent 7000 engine was in the prep shop.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.