Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another link in the chain

It's taken a long time to get to this point, but the Gulf Coast will have not just one, but two locations that promote themselves as "federal cities" in the near future. And further down the road, there's a third one that might use that designation.

More than five years after Louisiana and local officials first talked about consolidating military and federal agencies at in Algiers to cushion the blow of a base closing, the Navy Monday leased the Naval Support Activity to a city agency for 75 years. (New Orleans Times Picayune, 09/29/08)

The hope is the 149-acre site will be used by federal and state agencies, as well as companies. Federal city planners envision 15,000 jobs being associated with the Algiers site in later phases.

Right now, John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi is the region's only "federal city," and is certainly proof that the concept works. Operated by NASA, Stennis hosts more than 30 federal and state agencies. Stennis' largest tenant is the Navy, but it also has a number of aerospace and geospatial companies, including Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed Martin and Rolls Royce. Despite that, it retains its primary mission of testing rockets.

The creation of a federal city in Algiers represents another link in a growing chain of large host facilities that have been established in the Gulf Coast region close to Interstate 10. Though developed separately and not part of any master plan, combined they offer an array of opportunities for organizations that want to work in a research/technology/industrial park environment.

The chain is large. Not far from the Algiers project, NASA plans to create around the Michoud Assembly Facility an 800 acre park that will focus to a large extent on advanced manufacturing. Not far away in Slidell the University of New Orleans plans to establish a Slidell version of the UNO Research and Technology Park.

At Stennis Space Center, there are three parks in and around that federal city that may reach fruition. Inside Stennis there's an aerospace park that for quite some time has only had one tenant, Lockheed Martin. Immediately east in Kiln is Stennis International Airpark, and close to that Stennis Technology Park.

Continue eastward and there are other major projects in various stages of development: the new Gulfport, Miss., campus of the University of Southern Mississippi just north of I-10, Bernard Bayou Industrial District south of I-10, Trent Lott Aviation Technology Park in Moss Point, Miss., Brookley Industrial Complex in Mobile, Ala., Whiting Aviation Park in Milton, Fla., and the Emerald Coast Technology Park in Shalimar, just outside Eglin Air Force Base.

It is the Emerald Coast facility that may one day be the third operation in the Gulf Coast to use the term "federal city." Plans call for a wide range of tenants, including federal and state, as well as aerospace companies, working in close proximity in a campus-like atmosphere.

Louisiana, just like Mississippi and Alabama, is trying to turn the loss of a federal facility into something that can create jobs and bring in new players. Mississippi did that with the closing of the Army Ammunition Plant at Stennis, and Alabama did that with the closing of Brookley Air Force Base.

Public discussion about creating the federal city in Algiers began in early 2003 when there was concern the Defense Department would close the Naval Support Activity, which has a mission to serve as landlord for other military commands. It became a reality in May 2005 when the Pentagon and Navy announced plans to close the base.

Louisiana has pledged $150 million to the Algiers project. The property affected by the lease encompasses all of the Algiers base except for a seven-acre parcel owned by the Coast Guard, which is building a $21.5 million facility.

According to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin: "Completion of the federal city should bring additional military-connected industry and related jobs that will serve as a major catalyst for future development."

He's likely right.

Monday, September 29, 2008

NASA at 50

For the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor, anything concerning NASA should be of high interest. This is home to NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the Michoud Assembly Facility. And a lot of the facilities here, like the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, have ongoing projects with NASA.

There's an excellent but long piece in Aviation Week and Space Technology written about the space agency's 50 years. It points out that NASA is facing challenges comparable to those the agency faced at the end of the Apollo program.

Today the agency faces another gap as one program ends and another begins, and money is again an issue. The war on terrorism is gobbling up resources, and now the financial problems and the bailout promise to make it even tougher.

It's a long read, but well worth it if you're interested in NASA, where it's been and where it may be going. Story.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Week in review (9/21 to 9/27)

The controversy in Northwest Florida over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter training mission at Eglin Air Force Base and the noise level it might bring continues to be a significant issue for the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor.

Eglin, which has an estimated $7 billion economic impact on the surrounding community, will be losing the 33rd Fighter Wing but gaining the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It's slated to become the Joint Integrated Training Center for F-35 pilots of all branches.

But residents of Valparaiso, directly east of the base, have raised issues over noise and safety. This past week, Valparaiso filed suit against the Air Force, alleging that previously requested information about the Base Realignment and Closure measures have been withheld. The city wants records about the Joint Land Use Study and the draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Other cities in Okaloosa County have been concerned that the controversy might cause the Air Force to look elsewhere. Fort Walton Beach passed a resolution showing support. Next week Destin officials will consider a resolution backing the Eglin mission.

Considering the pro-military attitude of this region and the way officials work closely with the military to resolve encroachment issues, it's likely the controversy surrounding the joint strike fighter will also be resolved. It will just take time.

Don’t think for a moment that the Air Force tanker issued has died. This past week Alabama Gov. Bob Riley told real estate agents in Mobile that he feels the tankers will be built in Mobile.

Earlier in the week, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said the defense authorization bill passed by the House has a provision requiring the Defense Secretary to review the impact of subsidies on the tanker replacement program. The U.S. government filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization about the money European governments have given Airbus. Dicks thinks the next administration will wait until the WTO rules on the matter.

Meanwhile, Defense Sectary Robert Gates has ruled out a split buy, which many people have begun talking about since the battle between Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team over the tanker has become so politicized. But does it matter what Gates says about a split buy? He won't be in office when the next administration makes a decision.

Two large contracts were awarded this week for military aircraft in the region. Sikorsky Support Services of Pensacola won a $132.8 million contract modification for logistics support services for the T-34 (Mentor), T-44 (Pegasus) and T-6 aircraft. Work will be done at more than a dozen, including Pensacola, Milton and Fort Rucker, near Dothan.

L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace of Madison, near Jackson, Miss., won a $42.5 million contract modification for logistics support for TH-57B/TH-57C helicopters. Work on that will be done in Milton and Maryland.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A time to regroup

The October issue of Alliance Insight, a science and technology newsletter of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic Development, has a story about the new spirit of cooperation in the Gulf Coast when it comes to aerospace.

The link is not yet available to the newsletter, but come back to spot in October and I'll provide you with one. I recommend taking a look at the story. But in the interest of full disclosure, I wrote it, so I may be partial.

Briefly, there's been a lot of aerospace activity in the Gulf Coast region for years, but the competition for the Air Force tanker project brought this region's political and economic development officials together, perhaps like never before.

Needless to say, the folks in Mobile who stood to gain a major aircraft manufacturing plant and 1,500 jobs were the most upset when the Pentagon decided to punt the project to the next administration. But surrounding areas in Florida and Mississippi, who expect to get some of the suppliers, were also unhappy with the decision as well. This region has come to realize that, sure, they compete with one another for projects, but a win for one in the aerospace field can spill over. And branding the region as an aerospace hotspot helps all of them. Let's face it, it's getting harder and harder to be heard in today's world.

But don't think for a moment that this is the first time folks in this region have put aside the turf mentality to move toward a common goal. There have been other ad hoc efforts here and there, as well as more permanent ventures.

One of the earliest was the Gulf Coast Regional Chamber Coalition, which resulted from a 1999 meeting of about 150 business and economic leaders from the Central Gulf Coast. It has six members from chambers in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, South Mississippi, Mobile and Pensacola.

In 2000, another group - this time tourism officials - created SouthCoastUSA, an organization that promotes the entire region as a great place to visit. Louisiana members are Lake Charles, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Houma, New Orleans, and Louisiana Northshore/St. Tammany Parish; Mississippi’s members are Mississippi West Coast and Ocean Springs; Alabama members are Mobile and Gulf Shores/Orange Beach; and Florida members are Pensacola and the Beaches of South Walton.

Just before Hurricane Katrina, the University of New Orleans held a meeting of universities with interests in this region, to see if they could come up with a way to collaborate more effectively. There was a second meeting after Katrina, but what's happened to that effort since then I don't know. Still, the mindset to work together was there.

But those multi-state efforts are rare. Far more common is a lineup of counties within one state. In Mississippi there's the Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic Development, which involves counties in South Mississippi and is designed to promote that region. It's been around since 2000, and promotes that area's science and technology efforts. Far newer is the Gulf Coast Aerospace and Defense Coalition, which involves three Northwest Florida counties.

And then there’s the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor - likely the way you got to this blog in the first place. It spans a four-state region between New Orleans and Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and focuses exclusively on aerospace activities in this region. It includes a reference section, a news and jobs section. Oh yes, again full disclosure - I'm involved in that project.

I've been around this block long enough to know that regional efforts have been discussed for years, and what often happens is that everyone agrees it's a great idea, then usually that's about as far as it goes. But that's understandable. Everyone has so much on their plate. And then there's the local constituents factor: They wonder, and with good reason, why spend time on something that might help a neighbor? The short answer is, what's good for the region is good for every part of the region.

When I was the business editor of the Mobile Press-Register in the 1990s, we produced a quarterly magazine called the Business Register. It was unusual in that it covered the region between Fort Walton Beach to South Mississippi. It was well received - and to this day I have the messages that were sent to me when we came out with that first issue. Folks said it was about time. But, in fact, it was ahead of its time and it ceased publication after two years when the paper opted to pursue other ventures.

But that was back in 1997, and a lot has changed in 10 years. The global economy and advances in technology have put one heck of a lot of players on the field. Everyone is competing with everyone else to get heard. And in this environment, it’s nearly impossible for any single economic development group to get noticed. That reality will force us all to find new groups, new alliances, new ways of getting noticed.

This is, clearly, the time to regroup.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The aircraft behind the fuss

If you follow aerospace news, you know that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is being assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., as part of that base's mission to serve as a joint training center. You also know residents of Valparaiso are concerned about the noise.

So what is this aircraft that's causing this concern?

The F-35, designated "Lightning II," is built by Lockheed Martin with partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. It's a classic sample of how aerospace companies work together to create a weapon system to sell to the Pentagon and foreign nations.

The F-35 is a single-seat, single-engine stealth-capable multi-role fighter designed for close air support, tactical bombing and air superiority missions. There are three models: conventional takeoff and landings, a vertical takeoff and landing variant and a carrier model.

One of the most notable features of the F-35 is its development is a multinational effort. Funded mainly by the United States, other partners are the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Norway and Denmark. During the Farnborough International Air Show in July, F-35 team members emphasized the importance of the international partnership, and a presentation used the theme "Global Team, Global Commitment, Global Value."

The more far-reaching story has nothing to do with the noise concerns at Valparaiso, but rather, what nations will change their minds about buying the F-35? It once appeared that the F-35 had no real competitor. But some nations that seemed naturals to buy the F-35 are now weighing other options, including an upgraded Saab Gripen built in Sweden. One report said defense officials in the Netherlands were pressured to look at alternatives by those swayed by Sweden's "buy from your neighbor" pitch.

Obviously, the global economy has a long way to go.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Getting them to the table

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Air Force announced today that they are looking for universities and companies that can help the agencies advance hypersonic research. They plan to spend as much as $30 million over five years, with a maximum grant of some $2 million a year.

NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington and the Air Force Research Laboratory's Office of Science Research at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, released a broad agency announcement describing the intent to establish three national hypersonic science centers. (Details: www.grants.gov)

This jointly funded program will support university-level basic science or engineering research that provides improved understanding of hypersonic flight – flights in excess of Mach 5. James Pittman, principal investigator for NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program's Hypersonic Project at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., said the three critical research areas are air-breathing propulsion, materials and structures and boundary layer control.

Here's some food for thought.

The Gulf Coast is home to a NASA field office at John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, which does propulsion testing. The Gulf Coast is also home to Eglin Air Force Base, which does research, development, test and evaluation of high-speed – just how fast is classified – air weapons.

Add to that the universities that have either a campus here or some type of outreach and you've got the makings of a group that could compete for this. One of the universities is the University of Southern Mississippi, which has an international reputation for its work in advanced materials, and another is the University of New Orleans, which operates the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing – experts at manufacturing large composite structures.

Like I said, it's just food for thought. And while I'm at it, here's another morsel. What would really be great is if this region had some type of organization that could quickly bring together these potential players to see what they could bring to the table.

For details on some of these Gulf Coast RDT&E operations, click here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Getting "amped"

A gentleman whose opinion I value was happy to see that I started a blog for the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor. He liked the review of the region's aerospace news every weekend, but had two suggestions: First, write something every day and, second, "get your voice amped."

The traditional journalist in me balked, not about writing something daily, but the part about getting my voice "amped." I'm from the old school, when we still had two-newspaper towns, typesetters and copy boys. Let's see here, the five "Ws," check. Inverted pyramids, check. Amped? I don't remember that one.

But he got me thinking about it, and he's right.

Here's why: One thing that has frustrated me for a long time is knowing this Gulf Coast region has a huge potential in science and technology, yet for the most part residents don't see it. Granted, people from Pensacola know about the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, and folks in Waveland know about NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center. But what escapes most people is just how much there is across the region, and how it all fits together. Or rather, how it should fit together.

Let me explain something so you'll know, as they say, where I'm coming from.

I lived in Huntsville, Ala., and got my degree from the University of Alabama Huntsville. I saw what an economy based on science and technology can do. That part of Alabama is packed with technology companies offering great jobs and terrific salaries, and it's particularly conducive to startups.

Huntsville is home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the Army's missile program, UAH and the biggest names in the aerospace industry. That's helped give Huntsville one of the highest median incomes in the nation, and it dominates Alabama when it comes to winning small business innovation research and technology transfer money. I also lived near Silicon Valley in California, the epitome of an innovation-based, sci-tech economy.

I moved to the Gulf Coast in 1985 as Pensacola bureau chief for United Press International, and over time I became familiar with the broader region. Beginning in 2002, I started to compile data on the science and technology infrastructure of the contiguous metropolitan areas between Baton Rouge, La., and Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

What I found surprised me. The 300-mile region had well over 150 federal and university organizations doing research and development, test and evaluation or applied technology work in a variety of fields. But they also had some common fields of interest, like marine science and, most notably, aerospace.

I felt like I had walked into a large room with a lot of interesting activities, but they were each focusing on their own cubicle, unaware of what was happening next door, let alone two or three cubicles away. I felt that if they could just knock down the walls and start working together - a horizontal integration - man, what they could accomplish.

I'm not alone in this thinking. I've come across a surprisingly large number of people who have seen the same potential. I've given talks/presentations/lectures about this, and for the most part listeners have been in agreement. But that's usually about as far as it goes before everyone goes back to their cubicle. Oh sure, there have been attempts to get regional things going, but it's been a particularly slow process for a variety of reason, not the least of which is political.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the one field that had the best chance of a regional approach was aerospace, because every metro area in the region had some significant things to bring to the table. There has, in fact, been a fair amount of cooperative work done, including cross-state efforts, most notably with the Air Force tanker project.

But that's one project. There had to be something permanent to glue the region together. In 2007, we decided to start working on the glue for the aerospace corridor. As journalists and former journalists, we figured we'd work with what we know – publications, print and electronic. We decided not to approach stakeholders beforehand, but rather to invest the time and effort to do it ourselves as time permitted, run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes.

In May 2008, we went live with the Web site, first providing reference material about the corridor - facts and figures, maps and such. Since then we have added a news digest, so we can track the aerospace activities in the region, and we also provide a jobs listing. And we have much more in the works.

That's all well and good, but I believe my friend was right. This blog needs to be "amped," to serve as the voice that can help put all this activity in context, the voice that can try to explain the bigger picture, the voice that believes this region can be more than it's been. This voice needs to point out not only what is, but what can be.

I'll continue every Saturday to recap the past week's Gulf Coat aerospace news for those who do not subscribed to the daily news digest or those who are simply too busy to look at it every day. But during the week I'll give you something different - appropriately amped, of course. And by all means, I welcome your comments.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Week in review (9/14 to 9/20)

For those of us who live with the threat of hurricanes, the big aerospace news last week occurred over the weekend when a Navy Global Hawk was used to spy on Hurricane Ike as it hit the coast of Texas. It flew over Ike for 13 hours and took more than 600 images through the cloud cover and sent them to a variety of agencies on the ground.

It was an important first step to having Global Hawks provide persistent coverage of hurricanes, from the time a system leaves the coast of Africa until it makes landfall. It promises to forever change how we track hurricanes, and that regular use could occur as early as next hurricane season.

Global Hawks, which are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., are unmanned aircraft that can fly at a ceiling of 65,000 feet. Equipped with an array of high-tech sensors, they are most closely associated with the military. But they could also take some of the uncertainty out of our lives. Officials say it could improve prediction models by two days, and help in evacuations by showing bottlenecks and helping to divert traffic. One of the great promises is it will be able to loiter over an area where a hurricane hits and provide communications links to the outside world.

Keep your eye on this. It could change everything for us.

Sure, the tanker deal is dead for now, but that hasn’t stopped the coverage. One of the most dramatic things we learned this past week was that the Northrop Grumman/EADS proposal to build the tankers in Mobile, Ala., was $3 billion less expensive than the Boeing proposal to build them in Washington State. Sure, that’s chump change for a government that’s spending $85 billion to bail out AIG, but it's serious money for some of us in the hinterlands.

I've been telling some of my business associates for some time now that it was beginning to look like the only way out of this mess is a split buy. The Air Force has been saying for some time now that that's simply too expensive. But this balking is also expensive, and promises to get more so. It could take up to four years to finally get a contract, and during that time we're going to have to spend even more to maintain the aging fleet of KC-135s. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said last week that he would hate to see a split buy, but he said it may be the only way to get this thing going.

We also found out last week that Boeing is doing an internal assessment about how it all went so wrong. Part of that internal assessment should be to explore if there's a way they could work with EADS and Northrop to come up with a way for the them to work together to lower the cost for a split buy. Of course, EADS and Northrop may not want to do that since it seems that team still has the plane to beat.

Meanwhile, Mobile area officials have taken steps to make sure they are ready with incentives once things hash out. This past week they opted to renewed the incentives package that were supposed to expire at the end of this month. Given how many surprises there have been in this project, they have to be ready at a moment’s notice and can’t let the incentives lapse.

Late in the week we found out that Luke Air Force Base in Arizona is going to host a visit from Air Force officials to see if that base near Glendale might be good to use as a Joint Strike Fighter Training Center. Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho is another one being considered.

The reason? Right now, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the site where pilots from all branches of the military will be trained on the F-35. But that base will reach capacity by 2014. So the Air Force, Navy and Marines are all looking for bases that could meet their needs to train pilots to fly the top-of-the-line aircraft.

Residents of Shalimar have been concerned about the noise the J-35 Lightning II jets will bring to the area, and have been fairly vocal about what the training center might do to property values. Fort Walton Beach, for its part, came out last week with a resolution saying it backs the Joint Strike Fighter training mission.

There has been the underlying fear that if there are too many complaints the Air Force would just decide to move the entire program from Eglin. A couple of Air Force officials have said that’s not going to happen. But for anyone who follows the military, there's always the nagging reality that missions can and do change. Don't count on it until you get it, and then you have to work to keep it. Look what's happening with the tanker project, or the cyberspace command or the 46th Test Wing.

Two key weapons milestones were reached this past week at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. A Raytheon missile, the infrared-guided AIM-9X, passed a milestone when it completed a "captive carry" on an F-15C Eagle. In another milestone, the 200,000th Joint Direct Attack Munition tailkit was delivered to the Air Force. That's the tail fin that converts free-fall bombs into smart munitions. The Boeing JDAM is being produced at a plant in Missouri.

In what had to be a surprise for air taxi users, DayJet of Boca Raton, Fla., ceased all operations because of its financial struggles. The air taxi service, which was established in 2002, has been serving Pensacola, Fla., since October 2007.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Week in review (9/7 to 9/13)

The biggest news for the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor occurred Wednesday when the Pentagon said it was turning over the multibillion-dollar Air Force aerial tanker issue to the next administration.

Who wins the presidential election may play a role now. Democrat Barack Obama late in the week told members of an aerospace union that he supports the Pentagon decision, and indicated he favors Boeing. Republican John McCain hasn’t said, but he played a crucial role in killing an earlier Boeing lease plan.

Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team are competing for a $40 billion contract to build the first 179 tankers. Los Angeles-based Northrop was awarded the contract in February, but that was overturned after a Chicago-based Boeing protest. Boeing wants to assemble the planes in Washington State and Northrop wants to assemble them in Mobile at the Brookley Industrial Complex.

Mobile officials were, understandably, upset. They are anxious to get the 1,500 jobs the plant will bring. The reaction of Gulf Coast officials outside Mobile, who will benefit as well, was more muted. The bottom line is, Boeing is also a major player in the Gulf Coast, with operations in New Orleans and Okaloosa County.

The economic development and political leaders in the region clearly want the tanker project to come to the Gulf Coast, but they recognize that with or without it, the aerospace assets are still significant, ranging from the space program to the construction of unmanned aerial systems and weapons testing.

The delay in the tanker competition will give Boeing time to come up with a larger aircraft and will also give it time to settle a strike by 27,000 workers. Aviation Week reported during the week that outsourcing is a key issue with the Boeing strike. The unions want to have more influence over when jobs are outsourced overseas.

Anyone who has followed the tanker issue is aware that a central issue has been jobs. Supporters of Boeing say giving the contract to the Northrop Grumman/EADS team would mean sending U.S. jobs overseas. Supporters of Northrop say they will, in fact, be creating jobs in this country. Outsourcing and offshoring is the name of the game in today’s aerospace industry. One company differs from another only in degree.

Also this week, the chief executive officer of the European Aeronautics Defense and Space Co. told a group in Berlin that the company is eyeing more acquisitions in the United States. In April it bought PlantCML, an emergency response service company.

Louis Gallois wants to make EADS a "citizen" of the United States. Small wonder, considering the United States is the largest aerospace and defense market in the world. No doubt Boeing paid close attention to Gallois’ remarks. EADS, the parent of Boeing rival Airbus, has made it clear it’s interested in competing with Boeing for more than just the tanker platform.

Gallois’ comment was likely not music to the ears of European aerospace workers. They don't want jobs to be shipped to the United States. Aerospace workers in England have seen that happen with BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royce ended jet engine testing in England and is now testing them at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

While it does not have the media attention of the tanker project, the Constellation Program is steadily progressing. The Ares I passed a key design milestone during the week - good news for the people at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and the nearby John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, who will be working on the Constellation Program for years go come.

Economic development officials in New Orleans hope the Constellation program will be the spark that will help grow a planned 800-acre research park at the Michoud facility. Ground has been broken for a new, 120,000-square-foot Research and Development Administration Building that will open in 2010.

Michoud will play a role in the Ares I rocket, Ares V cargo launch vehicle and the Orion crew capsule. Boeing will make the Ares I upper stage at Michoud and conduct avionics systems integration and checkout. Lockheed Martin will build structures at Michoud for the Orion crew exploration capsule and its Launch Abort System. Down the road, the Ares V core stage and Earth departure stage will be built at Michoud.

By 2011 more than 600 people to be working at Michoud on Ares I and Orion alone, with more to follow when NASA awards contracts for Ares V, requiring more engineers, technicians and support personnel.

One of the ongoing issues in the eastern part of the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Training Center, and what the new mission might mean for the surrounding communities, such as Shalimar.

Air Force officials have promised to include all the public comments in the final Environmental Impact Statement, and there have been plenty, most concerning the noise issue and what it might do to property values.

But a lesser-discussed issue is the development of the Emerald Coast Research and Technology Park just outside Eglin Air Force Base. Larry Sassano, executive director of the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council, said that while Okaloosa County has some major aerospace players, those companies don’t do research here. He thinks the park will change that.

The manpower shortage in Afghanistan and the growing violence is creating an insatiable demand for unmanned aerial systems, according to a story in this week’s issue of U.S. News & World Report.

It’s just another indication of the incredible growth of the unmanned systems field.

Aurora Flight Sciences of Bridgeport, W. Va., which makes the V-tail and other composite parts for the Global Hawk, is doubling production and expects to eventually triple production to meet demand.

The Gulf Coast is an increasingly important player in this field. Mississippi’s Moss Point is home to the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center, which builds the center portion of the Global Hawk fuselage and does finishing work on the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. Santa Rosa County has an operation of AeroVironment, a California company that was highlighted this week in a story by the Los Angeles Times.

While the military use of the Global Hawk is well known, it's also clear the Global Hawk will have major civilian applications down the road. Plans are to use them routinely to provide persistent coverage of hurricanes and improve forecasting.