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.

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