35 Years Old and Still Going: a Rolls-Royce Jet Engine’s Fascinating Story
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.
Jet engines may well be “the most fascinating machines ever made.” One of the most impressive things about them, besides the staggering amount of power they produce, is that they last a really, really long time: there are engines flying today dating back to the early 1960s, like those of the US Air Force’s B-52 bomber. Commercial airplanes, which fly a lot more than military ones, typically do not reach such extremes, but their engines routinely last three decades or more.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for engines to be older than the airplanes they are mounted on, since engines can be easily removed and swapped between planes. If you have flown recently on a Boeing 757 with American Airlines, for example, you might have been pushed through the skies by a pair of Rolls-Royce engines probably older than yourself, and certainly older than your plane.
The company’s longest-serving engine on a passenger jet is an RB211 that was first installed on an aircraft in August 1984, according to a spokesperson for Rolls-Royce. These days it’s flying with American, hanging off the wing of a 757 — and according to the fleet-tracking site Planespotters, the airline’s oldest 757 was built in 1993.
That engine has almost 100,000 flying hours, which translates to 50 times to the Moon and back, or almost 10,000 cross-country flights in the US, Rolls says.
Because engines are by far the single most valuable part of a jet airplane, they are the first thing to be sold when one is taken out of service, and that means they often move among different airlines during their lifetime. This one flew first on an Eastern Air Lines 757, Rolls says, then was sold to America West Airlines in 1992 after Eastern went bust. America West’s 757s, and their engines with them, moved to US Airways when the two airlines merged in 2005. Then the engine moved in 2008 to American Airlines, where it remains.
Jet engines can have fascinating histories. The absolute oldest RB211 flying today, a 1982 build powering a 757 with cargo carrier DHL Air UK, has been on 18 — yes, eighteen! — different aircraft, with Eastern and British Airways before DHL.
And that’s perfectly safe. Jet engines have become really, really reliable, spending tens of thousands of “hours on wing” — industry jargon meaning that an engine does not need to be removed for service and stays attached to the aircraft, needing just oil changes and tune-ups. That’s what you might see at the airport when mechanics are looking into an engine, like in the image below, showing an inspection of an RB211 with its covers open, on the wing of a Boeing 747.
The RB211 has achieved “40,000 hours on wing without removal,” Tim Boddy, Rolls-Royce’s Head of Marketing, Mature Large Engines, said.
Now, if only the engine in your car could last as long.
Featured photo of a Rolls-Royce RB211 by aviation-images.com/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Welcome to The Points Guy!
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.
- 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.