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.