Saturday, March 7, 2009

Week in review (3/1 to 3/7)

It's hard to escape a week without something interesting to report in the field of unmanned aerial systems. This time, it's Australia's decision during the week to pull out of the project with the U.S. Navy - the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance project.

Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said buying the Global Hawks would have put too much pressure on the Royal Australian Air Force. But publications in Australia also report that economic pressures played a role.

Australia had wanted a maritime version of the Global Hawks to help in surveillance of the vast island and the sea approaches. But the Global Hawks are not expected to be ready until 2015, about the time the RAAF's AP-3C Orion surveillance aircraft are to replaced by the new Boeing P-8A Poseidon. That would have imposed unnecessary strain on RAAF personnel, Fitzgibbon said.

The decision is not sitting well with some Australians. The opposition has slammed the decision, saying it denies Australia a useful and cost-effective capability. Reports indicate that if Australia wants to re-enter the BAMS Global Hawk program, in which it has already invested $15 million, the costs will go higher.

Northrop Grumman, meanwhile, plans to continue talking to Australia.

The Australian has a detailed story about the issue, which among other things talks about another UAV of interest to the Gulf Coast region, the Fire Scout. It says engineers at Northrop Grumman in conjunction with Israel's Rafael, are doing preliminary work on the MQ-8B Fire Scout to provide it with the capability of airlifting wounded troops from battle zones. (Story)

In another UAV-related story during the week, the Air Force is modifying a contract with Northrop Grumman, value not to exceed $107.6 million, to provide for long lead items associated with Lot 8 Global Hawk Block 40 air vehicles. Global Hawks and Fire Scouts are both built in part at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss.

People in Okaloosa County who support making Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the home of the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center are beginning to let their voices be heard. They are concerned that too much attention is being paid to public officials from the City of Valparaiso, which is suing the Air Force.

A petition from supporters will be provided to leaders of the City of Valparaiso during a meeting Monday evening.

Meanwhile, the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County during the week launched a campaign in support of the F-35 program. EDC asked residents to take an online poll on U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller's Web site.

The City of Valparaiso, right outside Eglin, voted last month to sue the Air Force over plans to bring the F-35 training center to Eglin. At issue is the noise level the jets will bring to the area. City officials claim the noise – it's about twice as loud as an F-15 – will drive down property values.

In another F-35 related story during the week, Turkish Aerospace Industries Inc. delivered its first composite parts for the F-35. The structural composite panels are used to form the outer surface of the fighter. Northrop Grumman will integrate the parts into the center fuselages of the first two production F-35s.

Northrop Grumman is a founding member of the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 Lightning II team, and is responsible for the design and production of center fuselages for all three variants of F-35 aircraft. The F-35 has multiple international suppliers.

NASA successfully completed the second drop test of a drogue parachute for the Ares I rocket. The test was late last month at the Army’s proving ground in Yuma, Ariz. Ares I, part of the Constellation Program, will send explorers to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond in coming decades.

The parachute is designed to slow the descent of the spent first-stage motor that will be jettisoned by the Ares I during its climb to space. The first-stage solid rocket motor powers Ares I for the first two minutes of launch. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi are both involved in the Constellation Program.

Speaking of Stennis Space Center, NASA has appointed Richard Gilbrech associate director of the center. Gilbrech is the former director of Stennis who served there until he was appointed associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in 2007. Last November he announced his retirement from that headquarters post, but will be back at Stennis in early May.

In Mobile, Ala., Teledyne Continental Motors laid off about 20 workers late last month, officials said. The airplane piston engine maker has been hit by the economic downturn. It has 400 workers at Brookley Industrial Complex location. The company is a subsidiary of Teledyne Technologies of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

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