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.

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