Saturday, January 17, 2009

Week in review (1/11 to 1/17)

Those who live around any of the Navy's outlying landing fields in the Gulf Coast will want to take note of a story that occurred as the week drew to a close. The Mobile Press-Register had a story saying the new training aircraft the Navy will be putting in service will likely mean the expansion of runways and safety zones around outlying fields. (Story)

The story focused on the four fields in Baldwin County, Ala., that will be impacted when the T-6B Texan II replaces the T-34C. But no doubt it has implications for other OLFs in the region, and there are plenty.

Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla., is where the military does initial training for military pilots. Anyone who lives here is familiar with the orange and white military aircraft. This year the base will begin a four-year plane switch. And that will mean some changes at the outlying fields essential for the training. The OLFs are where the student pilots do touch-and-go landings, maneuvers and other exercises in sparsely populated areas. The number of training flights also will increase.

The Navy plans to hold meetings so the public is fully aware of what’s going on.

This region is certainly military friendly, but that doesn't mean there are not occasional problems associated with encroachment. Building too close to a base with a flying mission can cause problems. Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., had to deal with the issue during the building of high-rise condos and casinos. Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., has also dealt with the issue. Florida has worked with environmental groups to buy land around bases, which seems to make everybody happy.

But it's not always a flying issue. Right now Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and the nearby city of Valparaiso are trying to figure out how to deal with the additional noise the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will bring when the joint training center opens at the base.

When the outlying fields were first established, they were in rural areas with little population. But time has changed that, and some neighborhoods have been established around some of the OLFs. We’ll keep an eye on this one.

- There were several stories during the past week about Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk. An announcement is expected soon that NATO will buy eight Global Hawks in a deal that would be worth more than $1.3 billion. NATO is targeting a 2012 entry-into-service date for the airborne alliance ground surveillance fleet.

Any additional Global Hawk sales are important for Moss Point, Miss. Portions of the fuselage are built at the Unmanned Systems Center. But this sale will also have an impact on Melbourne, Fla., which will get another 125 engineers. The Global Hawk program is managed in Melbourne.

The other Global Hawk story was the unveiling at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., of the first Global Hawk unmanned system dedicated to earth science research. NASA plans to use them to support its Science Mission Directorate and the Earth science community, which requires high-altitude, long-endurance, long-distance airborne capability. That’s of high interest to John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, which is home to a large earth science and geospatial community, including NASA’s Science and Technology Division.

- Speaking of robots, researchers at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Fla., have played a key role in developing a robot that can refuel planes on the ground. The Air Force Research Laboratory's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio is developing the automated system for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It was researchers at the directorate's Airbase Technologies Division at Tyndall that developed the robot.

- While we’re on the subject of refueling, if you think the fight between Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team over the Air Force tanker contract project was bitter, just wait for the fight that’s expected over Air Force One.

The military officially launched the search for a new widebody presidential jet when it issued a request for information. Boeing has already said it considers the contract a priority, and Airbus is right now considering the RFI. What we may be looking at is a new battle that will pit Boeing’s 747 against the Airbus 380. Boeing has provided Air Force One for more than 50 years. That will likely make the fight over the tanker seem like child’s play. Boeing wants to build the tankers in Washington State, and Northrop/EADS want to build them in Mobile, Ala.

- The chancellor of the Alabama Community College System said during the week that plans for a stand-alone aviation college with a branch in Mobile, Ala., would be put on hold. Not surprising, Bradley Byrne said the issue was budgetary. He first announced plans for the Alabama Aviation College in October 2007, and he remains committed to the idea, but not just yet. Whether the indecision of the Pentagon over the Air Force tankers played any role wasn’t mentioned.

- Air travel may be down nationwide, but don’t tell that to the folks at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. Officials from that airport said during the week that more people flew into and out of that airport in 2008 than ever before - 6.5 percent more, in fact. In 2008 the airport saw 974,861 passengers.

- There were at least five contracts awarded during the week with ties to the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor. Raytheon Co., of Tucson, Ariz., got four of those contracts. The largest was one for $38.7 million, when the Air Force exercised an option for the production of 46 R7 HARM Targeting System pods and initial spares. The same day the Air Force obligated $4.5 million to Raytheon to provide for the High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile Targeting Systems Software Upgrade Program. Earlier in the week the Air Force awarded a $16.2 million contract to Raytheon to provide a High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile Targeting Systems Software Upgrade, and also modified a Raytheon contract for $6.7 million to the AMRAAM Production Lot 22 contract. The contracting activity in all of the above was Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The other company awarded a contract was CSC Applied Technologies of Fort Worth, Texas. This one was $29.1 million and involved the Air Force exercising an option to provide for base operation support at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. Keesler was the contracting activity.

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