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.

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