Saturday, May 30, 2009

Week in review (5/24 to 5/30)

As expected, the news that the Air Force will eliminate some 250 fighters – including 48 F-15s from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. – has kicked into high gear calls from the Panama City area to bring F-35s to Tyndall.

Bay County politicians have talked about bringing F-35s to Tyndall before, knowing that the F-15s were going to be drawn down in a few years. But a renewed sense of urgency came when the Air Force announced last week that 112 F-15s, 134 F-16s and three A-10s would be retired earlier than expected. The Air Force wants to free up money for next-generation aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The base hit the hardest by the early retirements is Tyndall, which will retain its 28 F-22s. The announcement prompted Rep. Jimmy Patronis to write to the Secretary of the Air Force asking that Joint Strike Fighters be considered for Tyndall. He pointed out that the community is supportive of the Air Force, and would welcome the jets.

Needless to say Okaloosa County officials, where much of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is located, are keeping a close eye on their counterparts in Bay County. The town of Valparaiso, concerned about the noise, is suing to stop the training center from going to Eglin, so any overture from another area to get F-35s is bound to get their attention.

But establishing the training center at Eglin is mandated by Congress through the BRAC process, so there's no real concern that will change. But the issue here is this: The JSF at Eglin is designed for all branches of the military, and each is actively looking for its own training center. Tyndall is likely wise to make a pitch to get some piece of the F-35 action. It would make perfectly good sense for Okaloosa and Bay counties to talk about how they can work together to ensure Northwest Florida remains a hot spot for F-35s. There will be plenty to go around.

At Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, structural work has been finished on the A-3 test stand that will be used to test engines for the Constellation Program, and work is now underway on general construction. When completed, the A-3 stand will test J-2X engines that will propel the Ares I crew launch vehicle and the Ares V cargo launch vehicle. The stand will be finished in May 2011.

- Linde LLC of Murray Hill, N.J., has been chosen by NASA to supply 256,500 tons of liquid nitrogen and 173,000 tons of liquid oxygen to Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Air Products and Chemicals of Allentown, Pa., and Air Liquide Industrial of Houston, were chosen to supply three other NASA facilities.

Unmanned systems
Northrop Grumman plans to test-fly for the Army its own Fire Scout unmanned helicopter next month in Yuma, Ariz. The Fire Scout, called an XM157 Class IV UAV by the Army, is part of the embattled Future Combat Systems program. The test is coming far earlier than the one the Army plans in 2011. The Fire Scout is already being test-flown by the Navy. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., at the Unmanned Systems Center.

- Here’s an item you may not have seen. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research officials are funding a project to integrate solar power into the base materials used to build unmanned aerial vehicles. A team at the University of Michigan is investigating the energy harvesting potential of multiple applications, including film solar cells reshaped and coated onto continuous filaments. When woven into a fabric system, the resulting textile can be used to form the structural make-up of the UAV and generate electricity to power it. They are now working on a coating apparatus for making large quantities of fiber-based energy conversion devices. (Story)

This should be of high interest to the Gulf Coast region. UAVs are built in Moss Point, Miss., and Hattiesburg, Miss., has a high level of expertise in advanced materials.

During the week, Boeing said three KC-767J aerial tankers have achieved initial operational capability and are now in an active air wing in the Japanese air force. The tankers were designated operational after a yearlong technical evaluation. A fourth plane will be delivered in the first quarter of 2010. The KC-767 is expected to compete against the Northrop Grumman/EADS KC-45 for a $40 billion Air Force aerial tanker contract. Northrop hopes to build its planes in Mobile, Ala.

Raytheon’s newest variant of the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile completed its seventh test flight March 19 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The AIM-120D was fired from an F-15D fighter. Initial analysis shows the missile achieved all primary test objectives. In addition, Textron Defense Systems’ Sensor Fuzed Weapon smart munition system completed three successful flight tests at Eglin. The Textron SFW, a cluster munition, has redundant systems that cause warheads to self-destruct if they fail to find a target.

Blue Angels
Because of budget constraints, the Navy is cutting one day of practice for the Blue Angels flight demonstration team. The F/A-18 Hornets will no longer practice on Tuesday, but will continue Wednesday sessions. None of the remaining air show appearances are being canceled. The team is based at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.

Mississippi airports will share $4.7 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, according to Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker. Among them, Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport will get $2.2 million for a covered walkway from the parking area to terminal building.

Far East Construction Corp., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a $13.8 million contract for construction of parking lots and infrastructure at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Buildings include the group support battalion logistics, tactical equipment maintenance facility, organization equipment storage facility and more. The work is scheduled to be finished in May 2010. … Broadmoor LLC, Metairie, La., was awarded $5.9 million contract for design and construction of a jet engine maintenance shop addition and an aircraft test cell foundation at Naval Air Station - Joint Reserve Base, New Orleans. The work is scheduled to be finished June 2010.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Week in review (5/17 to 5/23)

It looks like the Air Force will get back management of the tanker competition when it gets underway this summer. Aviation Week reported early in the week that the Pentagon hadn’t decided yet whether the Pentagon or Air Force would manage it, then before the week's end Reuters reported that the Air Force is “expected” to be the manager.

The Pentagon chief weapons buyer was given control over the program last summer after auditors faulted the Air Force for the handling of the competition between Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS. The Air Force had awarded the contract to Northrop/EADS to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala., but the GAO found fault with the process.

- Speaking of EADS, it edged out Boeing as the biggest aerospace and defense company in the world in 2008. A study from Deloitte released during the week said a strike of machinists in Boeing's commercial division last fall allowed EADS to move ahead when gauged by revenue. Deloitte's study of 67 aerospace and defense companies or divisions of companies found that European companies grew faster than U.S. companies.

- The first A320 aircraft assembled outside Europe took off from Tianjin International Airport and completed a four-hour, 14-minute flight Monday. The plane was assembled at the Final Assembly Line China, a joint venture between Airbus, a 51 percent stakeholder, and a Chinese consortium that includes Tianjin Free Trade Zone and China Aviation Industry Corp. An Airbus official said the plane has the same quality as those assembled in Hamburg, Germany, and Toulouse, France.

Joint Strike Fighter
The first draft of a study on the compatibility between Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and the surrounding communities has been released and a series of public meetings has been scheduled. The study reviews the impact Eglin's mission and the base's projected growth stemming from the Base Realignment and Closure act. Comments from the meetings will be incorporated in the final version expected to be completed by July.

- Sixty residents attended Eglin Air Force Base’s second town hall meeting in Niceville, Fla., during the week to discuss the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center. Much of the talk concerned the noise concerns of residents. Maj. Gen. Charles R. Davis, head of the Air Armament Center and former F-35 program manager, assured the audience that the Air Force was doing all it could to consider ways to decrease noise. He also said locating the center elsewhere is not an option.

- Development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter keeps moving along. The Pratt & Whitney F135 short takeoff/vertical landing propulsion system exceeded thrust performance expectations in recently completed tests. The engine provided more vertical power than required, according to a company release. The testing was conducted at a hover pit at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. The vertical takeoff and landing version is one of three F-35 variants.

- The Air Force during the week announced plans to eliminate some 250 fighter jets – including some from Eglin and Tyndall air force bases in Florida - from its inventory to free up money for next-generation aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. The move would save $355 million in fiscal 2010 and $3.5 billion over the next five years.

The service plans to retire 112 F-15s, 134 F-16s and three A-10s. Under the plan, Tyndall Air Force Base would lose 48 F-15s but retain 28 F-22s. Eglin Air Force Base would lose two F-15s and retain five. Don’t be surprised if you see folks from the Tyndall area, Panama City, Fla., and others, make a big push to see if they can get some of the F-35 program.

This might be worth a trip to Stennis Space Center, Miss., and its visitor center, the StenniSphere. During the week Stennis unveiled its latest permanent exhibit: Science on a Sphere, a 68-inch global presentation of planetary data of the past, present and future. StenniSphere is the third NASA visitor center to offer Science on a Sphere, a computer system that uses four projectors to show dynamic, revolving, animated views of Earth’s and other planets’ atmosphere, geography and more.

- Although there’s a review in the works on NASA’s program to return astronauts to the moon and beyond, that’s not stopping the pace of development of the next generation of space vehicles. The first test of the Ares I rocket’s three main parachutes was completed during the week at the Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. The largest rocket parachutes ever manufactured, they slow the descent of the rocket's spent first-stage motor, permitting recovery for use on future flights. Ares I is designed to launch explorers aboard the Orion crew capsule. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, are both involved in the Constellation program.

This and that
Here are some of the other news items that appeared during the week:

- The Transportation Security Administration awarded Rapiscan Systems a follow-on order of about $3 million for some more advanced scanning systems. The award for the baggage and parcel screening system for airports is one of the first made by TSA that uses economic stimulus funds. Rapiscan, of Torrance, Calif., is a global supplier of security inspection systems. Rapiscan has a manufacturing operation, Ferson Technologies/Rapiscan, in Ocean Springs, Miss.

- A combat controller was presented with two Bronze Stars with valor during a recent ceremony at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Master Sgt. Ken Huhman, a special tactics recruiter in San Antonio, received the medals for his actions during a 2007 deployment to Afghanistan while assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

- A Coast Guard jet made six low passes over the Mobile River near Austal USA during the week to test radar aboard the littoral combat ship Independence. Austal is part of a General Dynamics Corp.-led team competing to build dozens of the warships. The Independence and a second LCS on order have aluminum trimaran hulls. A team led by Lockheed Martin Corp. delivered the first of its steel-hulled ships to the Navy in the fall and is working on a second vessel.

- General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems’ Niceville Operations in Florida has achieved CMMI Maturity Level 3 for systems engineering. The Niceville Operation specializes in the design, development and production of warheads for tactical missiles, rockets, ammunition and bombs. The designation means the operation incorporates CMMI best practices into its system engineering processes throughout product life cycles. GD Ordnance and Tactical Systems is a business unit of General Dynamics of Falls Church, Va.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Week in review (5/10 to 5/16)

No doubt the battle between Boeing and Northrop Grumman over the aerial tanker is a high-stakes, high-profile fight. But keep an eye out on developments in the unmanned aerial vehicle field. Down the road, that’s where you’ll see some real battles for federal dollars.

Aviation Week during the week had a comprehensive, higly detailed story about Boeing's new rapid prototyping initiative. The company, which has been pretty much shut out of the tactical aircraft arena, is going to use company money to develop the Phantom Ray, based on the defunct X-45. It's using R&D money to flight test the demonstrator in late 2010.

That will give Boeing experience in the combat UAV market. And that's no small matter. Some analysts, according to Aviation Week, think the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could be the last manned fighter. Aerospace company that want future dollars will have to be a healthy player in unmanned systems.

The UAV market is dominated by Northrop Grumman, which makes the Global Hawk, Fire Scout and Hunter, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which developed the Predator and Reaper.

The Phantom Ray is the former X-45C, three of which were ordered to demonstrate land-based unmanned combat drones required by the Air Force. But the Air Force dropped its program, leaving on the Navy, which chose the Northrop Grumman’s X-47.

Boeing officials are playing it smart. Navy officials plan to hold another competition when Northrop’s X-47 demonstrator flight tests end. The Phantom Ray could very well enter the competition then for a stealthy aircraft that will operate from aircraft carriers. (Story)

- During the past week a new kid, more or less, came on the UAV block. General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products and Elbit Systems of America formed a new company – UAS Dynamics LLC, which will be located in Fort Mill, S.C.

The joint venture is equally owned by General Dynamics and ESA, and will offer a line of combat-tested unmanned systems – the Hermes and Skylark – to the Department of Defense and other potential government customers. (Story)

General Dynamics has multiple operations in the Gulf Coast region.

Elbit Systems NA is the American operation of one of Israel's largest defense electronics manufacturers and integrators. ESA owns EWF in Fort Worth, Texas; IEI in Talladega, Ala.; Kollsman in New Hampshire; Talla-Com of Tallahassee, Fla.; Innovative Concepts Inc. of McLean, Va.; and VSI in San Jose, Calif., a joint venture with Rockwell Collins.

- Officials during the week said that Northrop Grumman’s Hunter UAV, used by the Army since 1996, has surpassed 75,000 flight hours in service. The MQ-5B Hunter is used for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, weapons delivery and communications relay. The Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., has done refurbishing work on the Hunter, and could do more in the future.

- The Coast Guard is still in the market for a UAV for the new National Security Cutter fleet. The Coast Guard ended its own vertical takeoff UAV program and has been monitoring other programs, according to the assistant commandant for acquisition. He said the Navy’s Fire Scout appears to be the farthest along. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., and the first National Security Cutter was built in Pascagoula, Miss.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates soon will provide data to Congress on the cost of buying tankers from both Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team. The Senate Appropriations Committee planned to insert language requiring the data in the fiscal 2009 war spending bill, but dropped the plan after Gates talked to the chairman. Pentagon officials oppose splitting the contract, saying it would be too costly. Some in Congress say a split buy would prevent a losing side from filing a protest and delaying the important procurement. Northrop/EADS will assemble the tankers in Mobile, Ala., if the team wins all or part of the contract.

- In a related developing during the week, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. refuted a published report that indicated the economy may force it to scrap plans to build cargo aircraft in Mobile, Ala. Aerospace Daily quoted an Airbus executive as saying the company was re-evaluating the plan to assemble a cargo version of the A330 in Mobile because of slack demand for the planes. EADS had said back in January 2008 that it would build the cargo planes in Mobile if it wins the tanker competition.

- An Airbus A330 tanker transport completed a test of the in-flight handling characteristics of its refueling boom system. The flutter testing of the first A330 built for Australia was done under a variety of conditions. In a different test last month, the A330 was refueled by a French C-135. Northrop Grumman plans to use the A330 platform for its KC-45, which is competing against the Boeing KC-767 for a $40 billion Air Force contract.

Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, was chosen as the permanent home of 24th Air Force, a new numbered Air Force headquarters focused on the cyber mission. That decision is tentative, pending results of an environmental study. In October 2008 Air Force officials announced the creation a numbered group under Air Force Space Command rather than the major command that had been expected. Several Gulf Coast bases had submitted proposals when the prize was the major command.

- Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is getting some additional personnel. The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at Kirkland Air Force Base, N.M. is reorganizing – pending completion of an environmental impact assessment. The change will shift 33 percent of the personnel from AFOTEC’s Kirtland headquarters to four AFOTEC detachments. In addition to Eglin, other bases getting additional personnel will be Edwards AFB, Calif., Nellis AFB, Nev., and Peterson AFB, Colo. The change affects 20 civilian and 71 military billets.

- A Valparaiso resident recorded the sounds of an F-35, F-15 and F-16 last month and played them early in the week at a Valparaiso City Council meeting to show the differences. Bob Webb, an audio professional, played the 45-second clip during an hour-long presentation attended by about 50 people. According to his estimates, the average person would find the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter two to three times louder than the F-16. The Air Force plans to locate the JSF training center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

- The new commander of the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Maj. Gen. Charles R. Davis, wants to improve the synergy between aircraft and weapons. Davis, who previously was program executive officer of the Joint Strike Fighter, has managed other aircraft programs as well and wants to incorporate that knowledge into Eglin’s weapons programs. He thinks AAC can do a better job improving the synergy between the weapons and the airframe. Eglin is scheduled to become home to the Joint Striker Fighter Training Center and the 7th Special Forces Group.

The long-term plan for human spaceflight will have to wait until the end of the summer at the earliest while a panel headed by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine reviews it at the request of the White House. The panel will include NASA insiders and outside experts to review the Bush-era “Vision for Space Exploration.”

Among topics to be covered will be narrowing the post-shuttle gap in delivering crews to the International Space Station on U.S. vehicles; pushing human exploration beyond low Earth orbit to the moon and beyond, and boosting commercial human spaceflight, according to John Holdren, Obama's science adviser. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans are both involved in the space program.

- Boeing is relocating headquarters for its Missile Defense Systems division from Arlington, Va., to Huntsville, starting immediately. Boeing initially will shift division management and support functions to Huntsville, and will evaluate moving other MDS employees. Between 40 and 50 positions may be transferred by the end of this year. Boeing says customers have been locating more operations to Huntsville and it wants to remain close to them. Boeing also has operations in New Orleans and Northwest Florida.

The Air Force during the week awarded two contracts to Raytheon of Tucson, Ariz. One is for $53.9 million to provide miniature air launched decoys. 692 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. The other is $521.2 million for air intercept missiles. 695ARSS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Boeing and Alabama

The announcement that Boeing will move its Missile Defense Systems headquarters from Arlington, Va., to Huntsville, Ala., may not appear to have any significance for the Gulf Coast region. After all, that’s way up in North Alabama, close to Tennessee.

But it is important for this region on many levels.

First, it’s an affirmation that some parts of the South - including the Gulf Coast - have the pieces in place to host the most cutting-edge operations in the world. Huntsville has been building that foundation for years. Once the city got a NASA facility and the Army missile experts, it began to build on that to position itself for the future. Among the pieces put in place: ensuring the city had a campus of the University of Alabama, and taking steps to acquire the land for what is today one of the largest research parks in the nation. There was more, of course, but those are two key steps taken along the way.

For those who are not familiar with Arlington, it’s got to be said that it was no small feat drawing something from the city that sits across from Washington, D.C. As home of the Pentagon, Arlington is a premier location for companies that work with the federal government. Arlington, close to so much power and influence, provides access to a highly educated workforce, where a third of the population holds a graduate degree. It also has one of the highest median incomes in the nation. So that in itself speaks well for Huntsville and what it has put together.

Boeing initially will shift division management and support functions to Huntsville. But it will evaluate moving other MDS employees from Arlington to Huntsville over time. The company says between 40 and 50 positions may be transferred by the end of this year. That’s not much when it comes to numbers, but numbers do not tell the whole story of what it means to have an operation of this type.

“Huntsville is a leader in the aerospace industry, and Boeing is proud of its 47-year partnership with this community, which now includes work on defense, space and commercial programs," said Greg Hyslop, vice president and general manager for Boeing Missile Defense Systems. “Our customers have been locating more of their personnel and operations in this community, so now is the right time for us to center our missile defense business here as well. We want to remain close to our customers and the vital national-security programs Boeing employees support.”

Some are saying moving MDS headquarters to Alabama was a smart move by Boeing as the competition starts up again for the Air Force tanker project. Boeing is competing against Northrop Grumman and its partner, EADS, which wants to assemble the tanker downstate in Mobile. The thinking is, giving Huntsville this headquarters may make Alabama politicians think twice before bad-mouthing Boeing. But that makes little sense. Boeing, the largest aerospace company in the state, already has 3,200 workers in Alabama and is one of the state’s largest employers. Would 50 more and a headquarters operation change anyone’s mind?

If it’s PR, just how do you explain Northrop Grumman’s sizeable operation in Huntsville? Last year it broke ground on the second of four buildings that will comprise the company’s Huntsville campus at Cummings Research Park. The first building is four stories and 110,000 square feet, as is the second. They have offices, laboratories, integration and research and development facilities. In addition, the company established a premier Missile Defense Engineering and Analysis Center and the Huntsville System and Mechanical Engineering Center of Excellence. Northrop Grumman employs more than 1,200 people in the Huntsville area, and 1,330 in Alabama.

If the Boeing decision on the MDS headquarters is to some extent a PR move, then it could backfire. The fact that Boeing thinks enough of Alabama workers to move this crucial operation to the state should quiet politicians from Washington State who say the Pentagon should not entrust untried Alabama workers with the task of building a tanker. Of course, that argument should have been quelled long ago by pointing out the experience Northrop Grumman had when it set up its unmanned systems center in Moss Point, Miss.

The workers there had never built aircraft, let alone unmanned aircraft. But these untried workers today are building portions of the Global Hawk and Fire Scout, and as one Northrop official put it, the learning curve was short and the workers have continued to perform admirably – enough so that the company is considering sending more work to Moss Point.

PR move or note, I can't help but think there are some who simply can’t accept the fact that there are places in the South that can compete for some of the best projects and operations the world has to offer. They are stuck with the image they developed long ago about anyone with a Southern accent. And they keep that image and their own peril.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Week in review (5/3 to 5/9)

The fiscal 2010 Pentagon budget released during the week held no real surprises since Defense Secretary Robert Gates in early April previewed what it would include. As expected, the budget shows the military’s increasing interest in unmanned aerial systems.

It includes $1.45 billion for five Air Force Global Hawk high-altitude UAVs, as well as funding for five Fire Scout unmanned helicopters for the Navy. Both of those are built in part at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss. The Pentagon also plans on buy Ravens for the Army and Shadows for the Marines. The Predator will be giving way to the more advanced Reaper.

The budget also includes $400 million to restart the competition between Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS for the aerial tanker project. As you know if you follow the daily Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor news feed, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, at the start of the month, decided not to pursue splitting the contract and buying from both Northrop and Boeing. Northrop/EADS plan to build the tanker in Mobile, Ala., if the team wins the competition.

The Pentagon also is killing the alternate engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the fiscal 2010 defense budget request. The move ends funding for the F136 General Electric/Rolls-Royce engine, leaving funding only for Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engine. But lawmakers have restored funding every time the Pentagon has sought to cut it in the past, so we’ll have to see what happens. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will become home to the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center.

I should mention, even thought it’s not aerospace, that the budget also includes funding for three Littoral Combat Ships and a DDG-51 destroyer. At least one of those LCS vessels will be built by Austal USA in Mobile, which is part of the General Dynamics team, and the DDG-51 is likely to be built by Northrop Grumman in Pascagoula, Miss. If you’re interested in following shipbuilding news in this region, take a look at, and sign up for the RSS feed or the email updates. You’ll find those options in the news section of the Web site.

Along with the unveiling of NASA’s fiscal year 2010 budget on Thursday, the White House announced an independent review of NASA's human spaceflight activities. We first learned of that possibility from the Orlando Sentinel early in the week. That story said the review would examine whether the Ares I rocket and Orion capsule are the best options to send astronauts into orbit by 2015.

As for the budget, NASA is requesting an $18.69 billion budget to advance Earth science, complete the International Space Station, explore the solar system and conduct aeronautics research. An additional $2 billion has been added to NASA's 2009 and 2010 budgets under the Obama administration and funds a program of space exploration involving humans and robots with the goal of returning Americans to the moon and exploring other destinations. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans are both involved in NASA programs. The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla., is also involved in NASA activities.

- The space shuttle's latest external fuel tank built by Lockheed Martin at the Michoud Assembly Facility is now at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. The tank, constructed by using friction stir welding, will be used in the August launch of Discovery.

- High school students in communities near Stennis Space Center, Miss., can participate in NASA's Interdisciplinary National Science Program Incorporating Research Experience, or Inspire. Selectees will participate in an online learning community in which students and parents have the opportunity to interact with peers and NASA engineers and scientists. Inspire is designed to encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. For information, visit

Fire Scout
A Navy contract is establishing the Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., as a service center for Fire Scout unmanned helicopters. The Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a contractor logistics support contract valued at $5 million the first year, with options for three more years that will total $19 million. It’s the first step to a long term MQ-8B Fire Scout maintenance program. That’s a mighty big deal.

The center, which also builds portions of the Fire Scout and Global Hawk, will provide maintenance and periodic upgrades for the MQ-8B. The contract also includes operational and maintenance training. Officials from Northrop Grumman have been saying for a long time that they want to send more work to the highly capable Moss Point facility.

Towards that end, work has begun on a new taxiway linking the center to Trent Lott International Airport's runway. The 419-foot-long project should be finished within two weeks, according to the airport’s executive director. That runway is being put in because the company plans to conduct product test flights of Fire Scouts beginning this year.

Speaking of the Fire Scout, it successfully completed fully autonomous flight operations onboard the USS McInerney. This follows at-sea operations aboard the USS Nashville, which included the first autonomous ship landings by a Navy unmanned aerial vehicle. The Fire Scout eventually will be deployed on littoral combat ships, and is scheduled to deploy on the McInerney for its next counter-narcotics trafficking deployment later this year.

While on the subject of the unmanned helicopters, according to Flight Global, the U.S. Special Operations Command plans to buy 20 Boeing A160T Hummingbird unmanned helicopters to serve as a strike and surveillance aircraft from fiscal 2012-2017. The aircraft is designated the YMQ-18A for military service, and has been in development for a decade. The helicopter has demonstrated a long endurance flight lasting 18.7hr with a 300-pound payload. (Story)

NetFires LLC, a joint venture between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, conducted the second captive flight test of the Non Line-of-Sight-Launch System Precision Attack Missile at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The system is also one of the key Littoral Combat Ship mission modules to combat small-boat threats. The LCS Mission Module can fire as many as 45 PAM missiles from three container launch units. With a range greater than 25 miles, the PAM missile gives the LCS an increased surface warfare weapon capability. As I mentioned earlier, the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile is building LCS ships for the Navy.

- The Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation told Aerospace Daily that the MV-22 Osprey is facing reliability issues due to inaccurate predictive modeling. Lt. Gen. George Trautman said reliability and maintainability are “not meeting my full expectations yet.” He said it has become evident that early predictions of mean time between failures on certain parts were inaccurate. But he praised Bell Boeing for being engaged in working on the issues. No word on whether the CV-22 variant used by Air Force Special Operations at Hurlburt Field, Fla., is having any similar issues.

- EADS North America’s American Eurocopter is teaming with Lockheed Martin to offer a new armed scout helicopter to the Army – the Armed Scout 645. The announcement was made at the Army Aviation Association of America’s 2009 Annual Convention in Nashville, Tenn., during the week. The Armed Scout 645 is based on the Eurocopter EC145 commercial airframe, the platform for the UH-72A Light Utility Helicopter. The Armed Scout 645 will be produced at EADS’ American Eurocopter’s Columbus, Miss., facility, which also builds the UH-72A Lakota. By the way, EADS also operates an engineering center and maintenance center in Mobile, Ala., where it also hopes to assemble aerial tankers for the Air Force.

- OK, this is slightly outside the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor and it’s not an aerospace item, but it’s all part of the defense activity in this region so I’ll mention it. BAE Systems on Friday celebrated the 500th M777 howitzer to be made in Hattiesburg, Miss. Hattiesburg is part of South Mississippi, if not exactly part of the aerospace corridor region. The plant is the only supplier of the M777 howitzer, producing 14 of the lightweight howitzers each month. The Hattiesburg facility opened in 2003. BAE Systems also has operations in Gautier, Miss., and Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Surprisingly little to report from the aerial tanker front, although a lot of media picked up during the week the news from the previous week that Murtha was dropping his plans to split the project between Northrop and EADS. But there was one interesting new item.

EADS North America during the week appointed Michael Cosentino as vice president and program manager, tanker programs. He’ll work closely with Northrop Grumman on the KC-45 tanker and oversee the company’s tanker program and engineering efforts in the United States. EADS North America and Northrop Grumman are competing against Boeing to replace the aging Air Force tanker fleet. The KC-45 will be built in Mobile, Ala., if the Northrop/EADS team wins.

This and that
OK, here’s my chance to throw in a few things that occurred during the week that don’t fit very neatly into any broad category listed above. But all are important.

- A court has rejected a bid to block a new airport from being built in Northwest Florida. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied a pending petition for review of the Federal Aviation Administration's Record of Decision approving relocation of the Panama City-Bay County International Airport to a new site. The new airport is under construction with an expected opening of May 2010. It’s being built on 4,000 acres donated by The St. Joe Co.

- A magazine that tracks economic development projects, Site Selection, recognized the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance in its May issue. The organization received an honorable mention among Top Economic Development Groups of 2008. Recent accomplishments include Segers Aero Corp., a $7 million project that created 100 new jobs.

- The Air Combat Command's Eglin-based “West Coast” F-15 demo team performed its last demonstration at Eglin Air Force Base during the 33rd Fighter Wing Nomad reunion. Vintage P-51 Mustangs also performed. The 33rd has been one of the ACC's demonstration teams since the 1990s. In addition to ending its demonstration team work, the Nomads are ending 30 years at Eglin in September to make way for the F-35 Joint Strike fighter training complex.

- A Pensacola company was among 130 suppliers nationwide honored by Northrop Grumman this week. The suppliers provide Northrop’s Aerospace Systems sector with products ranging from aircraft parts to electronics for spacecraft, as well as everyday services. Johnson Supply Co., which supplies coatings and sealants, was among 62 platinum award winners for 2008. The company also recognized 11 top suppliers and 56 gold award winner.

- The National Naval Aviation Museum Foundation's board of directors voted during the week to begin construction on the National Flight Academy at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla. The foundation approved plans for the $26.5 million construction project, which includes a 100,000-square-foot academy facility, and a 55,000-square-foot addition to the National Naval Aviation Museum.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Week in review (4/26 to 5/2)

The week didn’t end on a high note for some Gulf Coast people who work at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. NASA let go 160 people in New Orleans and Utah, the first of 900 jobs that will be eliminated over the coming months at NASA centers.

NASA is preparing to retire its space shuttle fleet in 2010. The first notices went out Friday, primarily to contractors producing the space shuttle fuel tanks outside New Orleans and the shuttle solid rocket boosters in Utah.

But earlier in the week, House and Senate leaders authorized $2.5 billion to keep the space shuttle flying through 2011, if necessary to complete planned missions to the international space station. Funding to maintain shuttle operations past December 2010 is part of the nonbinding $3.4 trillion budget blueprint passed by the House and Senate. In addition to Michoud, Stennis Space Center, Miss., is also involved in the shuttle program.

- NASA during the week chose Jacobs Technology to provide manufacturing support and facilities operations at the Michoud Assembly Facility. Jacobs will manage the Michoud facility and provide support to its multiple NASA projects and other tenants.

Aerial tanker
Language to force the Pentagon to buy aerial refueling tankers from both Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team won’t be included in this year's supplemental war spending bill. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said during the week that he's abandoning his push to add the language, but said he plans to make another push for the dual buy later this year. Northrop and EADS plan to assemble the tankers in Mobile, Ala., if they win the contract.

Earlier in the week several media outlets reported that there's plenty of opposition to a split buy, as well as some fence-sitting. The Mobile Press-Register reported that Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., blasted the split buy, and Aviation Week reported that several key senators were not persuaded about the need for a split.

- At least two news organizations, Aerospace Daily & Defense Report and Reuters, reported during the week about France’s need to buy aerial refueling tankers. France would like the United States to make up its mind on a tanker aircraft so they can plan modernization of their own aerial refueling fleet with 14-15 new aircraft.

France wants its tankers to operate seamlessly with the U.S. tanker fleet, according to the French defense attache in Washington D.C. Maj. Gen. Gratien Maire said France would issue a request for information from potential suppliers, though no timetable has been set. Potential suppliers are Airbus and Boeing. How that might impact any decision in Washington about the Air Force tankers is unclear. (Story)

- The Airbus A330 tanker transport marked a new development milestone when it was refueled by a French Air Force C-135. In two sorties, the C-135 made 20 contacts with a Royal Australian Air Force A330. The A330 is the platform that Northrop Grumman plans to use for the KC-45, which is competing against the Boeing KC-767 to provide tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

Unmanned systems
During her final days in office, former U.S. Air Force acquisition chief Sue Payton wrote a letter to Northrop Grumman saying she was increasingly concerned about the management of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial system program, according to Aviation Week.

Payton’s April 7 letter outlines a series of problems that had contributed to her concerns, including design, workmanship and failure to follow production processes. All that, she said, contributed to delays in the Global Hawk development program.

In response, Northrop Grumman “does not agree with Ms. Payton’s evaluation of the program,” according to Cynthia Curiel, vice president of communications for the company’s Aerospace Systems sector. (Story)

- It was reported during the week that Northrop Grumman acquired Swift Engineering of San Clemente, Calif., a move that gave Northrop the KillerBee line of unmanned aircraft. But no sooner did that sink in then Raytheon by the end of the week announced it purchased the rights to the technology and name of the KillerBee from Northrop Grumman. The blended wing-body UAV is being offered in sizes with wingspans ranging from 6.5 feet to 33.2 feet. Both companies have operations in the Gulf Coast region, notably the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., which makes portions of the Global Hawk and Fire Scout UAVs.

- Raytheon Co. during the week also received a $16.5 million Navy contract to migrate the current Tactical Control System to a Linux-based operating system and add upgrades to the system software. The Navy wants to develop a common UAV ground system for multiple platforms, allowing operators to run simultaneously on one system multiple UAVs and payloads. The contract provides for operational evaluation on the Fire Scout.

- Northrop Grumman received approval from the Defense Department for its Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis system. The system now moves toward low-rate initial production. COBRA is designed to detect and localize minefields patterns and other obstacles in the littoral zone and will be carried aboard MQ-8B Fire Scouts. Two team members of COBRA also have operations in the Gulf Coast: Arete Associates of Niceville, Fla., and QinetiQ North America, which operates PSI of Long Beach, Miss.

- We didn’t report it in our daily news updates, but it’s interesting nonetheless because it involves unmanned aerial systems, which are of high interest to the Gulf Coast region. But Lockheed Martin will build the prototype of a high-flying radar-equipped airship for DARPA and the Air Force under a contract valued at almost $400 million. Northrop Grumman was the losing bidder.

The unmanned airship will have Raytheon-developed X- and UHF-band active electronically scanned arrays built into its structure. Designed to operate autonomously, the prototype will be a one-third-scale demonstrator for an operational solar-powered stratospheric surveillance airship that would be able to stay on station at altitude of 70,000 feet for up to 10 years. The airship will feature low areal-density flexible composite hull materials and a high energy-density regenerative electric power system. (Story)

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
Northrop Grumman delivered to Lockheed Martin the center fuselage for the first production F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, designated AF-6. It’s a conventional takeoff and landing variant for the Air Force. Northrop, a partner of Lockheed Martin on the F-35 program, designs and produces the center fuselages for all three F-35 variants – conventional, short-takeoff and carrier-compatible. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will become the home of the JSF training center.

Meanwhile, the first structural test airframe for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter arrived in the United Kingdom to undergo tests in the Structural and Dynamic Test facility at BAE Systems’ site in Brough, East Yorkshire, England. This craft, designated AG-1, is the conventional takeoff and landing variant. BAE Systems, like Northrop, is a principal subcontractor to Lockheed Martin on the F-35.

Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base’s Air Armament Center during the week got a new commander. Maj. Gen. Charles R. Davis has taken over from Maj. Gen. David Eidsaune. Davis most recently was executive officer for the F-35 Lightning II Program Office, in charge of developing and acquiring the F-35. That might come in handy, since the F-35 training school will be based at Eglin.

- Raytheon last month launched its first GBU-53/B Small Diameter Bomb II, a glide bomb, from an F-15E during testing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The weapon deployed its wings and performed a series of preprogrammed maneuvers and flew to a pre-designated position. The weapon is designed to take out moving targets in adverse weather conditions.

- In Biloxi, Miss., representatives from six airlines and about 150 South Mississippi executives expressed optimism during the week about South Mississippi during the Airline and Tourism Development Summit at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino. Bruce Frallic, executive director of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, said airlines are making money serving Gulfport and are considering adding flights.

1Q reports
General Dynamics announced during the week that first-quarter earnings rose 3 percent as sales of warships and other military equipment made up for lower profits from business jets. The Falls Church, Va.-based defense contractor reported first-quarter net income of $590 million, up from profit of $572 million in the same quarter last year. The company has several operations in the Gulf Coast region.

During the week there was only one contract with a Gulf Coast connection. The Air Force awarded related contracts to multiple contractors, including Tybrin Corp., of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., to provide engineering and related services in the development and sustainment of software engineering support for the 309th Software Maintenance Group.

But there were a couple of other contracts of interest, despite the lack of a direct tie. Northrop Grumman was awarded a $22.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System, which uses a Global Hawk platform. This modification provides for incorporation of wing static and load testing for the BAMS.

In addition, the Air Force awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman for a maximum of $49.7 million for the Small Unmanned Aerial System Research and Evaluation program. It will focus on translating promising research into systems for well-defined military needs and for rapid transition to small unmanned aerial system.