Saturday, June 27, 2009

Week in review (6/21 to 6/27)

It’s been said that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter might be the last manned fighter built in this country, and that future combat aircraft will be unmanned. That’s yet to be seen, of course, but unmanned fighters are in the works.

But one thing is certain: The pilots who fly the F-35s will have a capability that can’t help but make you think of a robot. All the pilots of F-35s will don helmets that will allow them to keep track of critical information no matter where their head is pointed. These helmet mounted displays are replacing the heads up displays of “old.”

We told you earlier this month that Vision Systems International LLC, a joint venture of Rockwell Collins and Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems, received several contracts from Lockheed Martin totaling more than $54.1 million for helmet-mounted displays for the Joint Strike Fighter. The contracts cover low rate initial production. Rockwell Collins also received initial financing for the pilot facility standup at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Eglin, of course, will be the home of the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center.

Defense Industry Daily has a detailed story on the Gen II Helmet Mounted Display, which is an integral part of all the American and export versions of the F-35s. The helmets are a significant advance over the heads-up displays that entered widespread military use in the 1970s. The old system superimposed range and targeting information on a clear pane of glass in front of the pilot, so they didn’t have to look down at instruments. The F-35s don’t have HUDs, and instead opt to make the display part of the helmet system.

Like the HUD, HMDS allows the pilot to look outside the cockpit at all times. But unlike the traditional HUD, the pilot doesn’t have to be looking forward. The new generation helmet adds functions like sensor imagery/synthetic vision, threat alerts – and even full 360 degree awareness. (Story)

While on the subject of next generation systems and weapons, a high-powered laser was successfully fired for the first time from the Advanced Tactical Laser aircraft during a test conducted by Boeing and the 413th Flight Test Squadron of Hurlburt Field, Fla.

The ATL is the 46th Test Wing's modified NC-130H. The laser was fired over White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and hit a ground target. The ATL program is managed by the 687th Armament Systems Squadron, part of the 308th Armament Systems Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Leadership changes/bases
During the week there were two leadership changes at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Col. Kenneth Echternacht was installed as the new chief of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Munitions Directorate. The directorate performs research on precision guidance, missile guidance and control, computational mechanics, smart sub-munitions, warheads and explosives. Earlier in the week, Col. Michael Gantt assumed command of the 53rd Wing. The 53rd reports to the Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
- Bases in this region face changes in the number of personnel. Hurlburt Field, home of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, will get an additional 435 military and 79 civilian personnel. Eglin Air Force Base, which will become home of the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center, will increase by 123 military and 302 civilians. But Tyndall will see close to 600 military and four civilian positions. It's part of the 2010 restructuring plan, which still has to be approved by Congress.

Unmanned systems
During the week Northrop Grumman unveiled the next-generation Global Hawk. Called AF-18, the RQ-4 Block 40 Global Hawk uses the MP-RTIP sensor, the first time the active electronic scanned array technology has been used on a high-altitude unmanned aircraft. AESA technology provides all-weather, day-night synthetic aperture radar mapping and ground moving target indicator capability. AF-18, scheduled to begin flight testing next month, had sub-assembly work done in Moss Point, Miss., at the Unmanned Systems Center.

In another Global Hawk item during the week, the Air Force awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman for $276.3 million to provide the rapid fielding and support of a communications network for military drones – the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node System. The system will be installed on three Bombardier BD-700 Global Express and two Global Hawk Block 20 aircraft.

The Pentagon may yet consider buying aerial tankers from both Boeing and Northrop Grumman, according to Rep. John Murtha, head of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He said new acquisition chief Ashton Carter said the Pentagon is examining data on a split buy. "He said, 'We're looking at it. We're going to see what can be done,'" Murtha told reporters. Murtha remains convinced a split is the only way to avoid protests or delays. Northrop Grumman and partner EADS plan to build the tanker in Mobile, Ala., if they win.

The commission reviewing NASA’s human space flight visited Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center and Decatur’s United Launch Alliance rocket plant in Alabama during the week, and also plans to visit Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The panel, created by the Obama administration, is taking a long, hard look at the plans to return astronauts to space. Part of that includes looking at the vehicles that are being developed to get them there. Michoud is the location that was chosen to manufacture the Constellation Program’s Ares I upper stage.

- Astronauts from the STS-125 mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope shared accounts of their mission during a visit to the StenniSphere, the visitor center at John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss. The crewmembers thanked Stennis employees for their contributions to the mission. The astronauts spent five days conducting five spacewalks to provide upgrades to the telescope as part of their 14-day mission aboard space shuttle Atlantis.

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport has launched the first of what will be $350 million in improvements to modernize the facility and create about 7,000 construction jobs. The most expensive project is a $114 million rental-car facility with 1,800 parking spaces.

Meanwhile, plans are inching along to develop land near the airport. To make dozens of scattered acres of vacant airport-buyout land more attractive to developers, the New Orleans Aviation Board has consolidated it into eight parcels. A request for proposals is in the drafting stage. The airport bought the land and razed houses beginning in the mid-1990s as part of a noise-mitigation lawsuit, but it has remained vacant. But the Federal Aviation Administration has directed the airport to submit a plan by October for using the land.

- Speaking of Louis Armstrong Airport, the AeroMexico nonstop flight between New Orleans and Mexico City that begin next month will encourage business ties between Louisiana and Mexico. That’s what experts said at a forum sponsored by the World Trade Center. The direct flight lasts two hours and 20 minutes and begins service from New Orleans on July 7.

- On the subject of flights, American Eagle will resume a fourth daily round trip between Mobile and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport starting Aug. 1. Traffic has picked up in Mobile. May saw 2 percent more passengers through the airport than in May 2008, the first time since February 2008 that traffic grew year over year.

In addition to the Northrop contract mentioned above, there were other contracts awarded during the week that are of interest to the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor. Raytheon Missile Systems was awarded a $9.7 million modification to a contract for the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile Intercept Missile (AIM)-120D program. … The Air Force modified twice a contract with Jacobs Technology to provide technical, engineering and acquisition support at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and various other tenant organizations. One modification was $17.3 million, the other $25 million. … BAE Systems was awarded a $9.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the procurement and installation of a 55 civil global positioning system with electronic flight bag for the C-130T aircraft. Ninety percent of the work will be done in Crestview, Fla.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Week in review (6/14 to 6/20)

The Pentagon will decide soon how to structure the multi-billion-dollar contest to replace the Air Force's tanker fleet. That's according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He also said he'll decide soon the acquisition authority, and hopes to get a request for proposal out by mid-summer. Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team will compete for the contract. If it wins, EADS wants to assemble the tankers, based on the A330, in Mobile, Ala. Boeing will build its tankers in Washington state.

Boeing said it will offer a 777 as well as a 767 in the competition against the Northrop Grumman/EADS team to provide aerial tankers for the Air Force. Jim Albaugh, Boeing’s defense chief, made the comment in a briefing at the Paris Air Show. The larger aircraft would offer maximum fuel capacity and the 767’s selling point is its flexibility, he said.

Ronald D. Sugar, chairman and CEO of Northrop Grumman, and Louis Gallois, CEO of EADS, issued a joint statement at the Paris Air Show affirming their commitment to the Air Force tanker project. Top executives from Airbus said the U.S. industrial base will be increased if the Airbus A330 beats Boeing for the U.S. Air Force tanker contract.

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida is opposing a measure now in Congress, fearing it threatens the military mission in Northwest Florida. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a proposal to change a 2006 law that opened 8.3 million new acres for drilling lease in exchange for a prohibition of drilling in the eastern gulf’s military testing range. Nelson says it’s not worth the sacrifice to national security. The military uses the Gulf of Mexico for pilot and weapons training.

- DRS Technologies announced during the week the receipt of follow-on orders of $43.9 million for the P5 Combat Training System/Tactical Combat Training System. DRS will be responsible for the production, testing, and fielding of the pods flown on a variety of aircraft. Under contracts were awarded by the 689th Armament Systems Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The pods will be manufactured at the DRS Technologies facility in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., and deliveries will begin in mid-2010.

Unmanned systems
The newest version of the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk will be unveiled during a rollout this week in California. The Block 40 RQ-4 version of the unmanned jet has improved sensors and radar for tracking ground targets. The roll-out of AF-18, the 27th Global Hawk built, is June 25 at the Antelope Valley Manufacturing Center in Palmdale, Calif. The Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., did fuselage work on AF-18.

The head of the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., had a wide ranging discussion with the editorial board of the Northwest Florida Daily News Friday. Among other things, Maj. Gen. Charles R. Davis discussed the noise controversy over establishing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Training Center at Eglin. He says he feels confident all 107 F-35s will eventually be placed within the Eglin range.

- Rockwell Collins and Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems said their joint venture, Vision Systems International LLC, received several contracts from Lockheed Martin totaling more than $54.1 million for 52 helmet-mounted displays for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and 30 additional systems. Rockwell Collins also received initial financing for the pilot facility standup at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., for the displays. The joint venture will start delivering the items this year, with deliveries running through 2012.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems' New Orleans facility will begin a loaned labor program to keep workers employed as NASA shuts down its space shuttle program. Lockheed, which has about 2,000 workers in its eastern New Orleans facility, has built external fuel tanks for the space shuttle. By loaning out its employees, the company hopes to hang on to them until they are needed when new space projects ramp up.

Three companies are marketing an airborne system designed to detect underground tunnels and caves. The INSITE VI system resulted from a partnership between AeroTec, NVision Solutions and EnTech Engineering. The system uses a helicopter fitted with a sensor able to detect changes in terrain and ground temperature. Experts can see up to 80 feet deep into the earth to find caves, tunnels, pipes, and leaks in levees not visible from the ground. NVision is based in Bay St. Louis, Miss., AeroTec in Birmingham, Ala., and EnTech in St. Louis, Mo. AeroTec also has an office in Picayune, Miss.

Ground was broken Tuesday for the National Flight Academy, a $26.5 million construction project at the national Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The academy will be a weeklong educational camp for seventh to 12th grad students. The academy will teach science, math and technology, with a focus on naval aviation.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Week in review (6/7 to 6/13)

It would be hard to do a week in review without talking about the week ahead. The centennial of the biennial Paris Air Show is being held at Le Bourget beginning Monday. And you can’t read a press report without being told there’s a good deal of doom and gloom at this year’s show.

The economy is in the pits, and on top of that there’s the crash of the Air France airliner, putting safety at the forefront. But for economic development officials, politicians and business people from this region who are going to the show, there are other things on their mind.

High on the list, of course, is the Air Force tanker project. They still hope the Pentagon will again award the contract to the Northrop Grumman/EADS team. That will mean a major Airbus assembly line in Mobile, Ala., and all the spinoffs associated with that. Northwest Florida, Alabama and Mississippi all hope to attract Airbus and Northrop Grumman tanker and cargo plane suppliers. The governors from Alabama and Mississippi also will be at the show, as will congressmen from both states. They plan to meet with officials from EADS.

The representatives from the Gulf Coast aerospace region will be meeting with companies they hope to lure to the region. As in the past, some of the prospects will have nothing to do with the tanker project.

Despite the gloom this year, organizers expect 300,000 visitors. There will be 2,000 big and small exhibitors. One of the more interesting aspects of this year’s show will be the obvious coming of age of unmanned aerial vehicles. It’s an incredibly hot field right now, and the Gulf Coast region has its foot in the door.

In Moss Point, Miss., Northrop Grumman does some of the assembly work on both the Global Hawk and Fire Scout. AeroVironment of California also has a training operation in Navarre, Fla. Like it or not, unmanned systems are taking over many of the tasks once performed by piloted aircraft, and a region that makes itself attractive to this aerospace segment is playing it smart.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking a split tanker buy is dead yet. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, hasn’t ruled out directing the Pentagon to buy tankers from both Boeing and Northrop Grumman. He says he’s received industry reports suggesting a split contract would achieve savings of as much as $42 billion when buying at least 360 aircraft over 30 years. He says he can’t ignore that.

- During the week, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida and former Navy secretary John Lehmann wrote separate commentaries in Politico and Defense News, respectively, pointing out the possible savings from a split buy. Lehmann argues that annual competition used to be the norm. He cites examples that show making companies compete every year tends to drive down prices. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates remains opposed to a split buy.

- The state of Washington has a new group designed to attract aerospace jobs to the state and push for Boeing to win the Air Force tanker contract. The group, Washington Aerospace Partnership, plans to work with the Council on Aerospace and Aerospace Futures Alliance. Mobile, Ala., has its own group called Keep Our Tanker that promotes the Northrop/EADS effort.

The Lockheed Martin team developing the Air Force's Space-Based Infrared System mated the spacecraft bus with the infrared sensor payload during the week for the second geosynchronous (GEO-2) SBIRS spacecraft. The SBIRS satellite and ground system will provide early warning of ballistic missile launches and support other operations. Lockheed Martin Mississippi Space & Technology Center at Stennis Space Center, Miss., makes the integrated propulsion system for the SBIRS.

- Speaking of Stennis, here’s something that didn’t quite make our news cut during the week but is interesting nonetheless. Stennis Space Center is now Twittering. You likely know that’s the highly truncated social networking tool that’s received a lot of publicity from, well, just about everyone.

Because there’s a limit on how many characters can be typed, you can’t really get much out of a single, uh, Tweet? But it appears the idea behind what Stennis is doing is to put links in the entries to more substantive versions – kind of a super headline approach.

If you want to see Stennis’ Twitter, go to

The Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., said it will buy 20 massive bombs designed to destroy hard targets or targets deep underground. The 30,000-pound bombs - Massive Ordnance Penetrator – were developed by the Air Force and Boeing. Five bombs will be used for tests.

- A commercial fisherman caught an 8-foot-long missile while out in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City and Tyndall Air Force Base late last month. He kept it on his boat for the 14-day trip until he returned to Madeira Beach, near Tampa. At first he was told it was a live air-to-air missile, but later found out it contained no explosives.

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics named Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., a historic aerospace site for 2009. It was among four international locations getting the honor. The selection is to recognize noteworthy cultural and technological contributions made in both aeronautics and astronautics. A bronze plaque will be mounted at the Air Force Armament Museum at a ceremony in September.

- Nearly 1,400 acres near Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., are now protected from further development. Florida's Cabinet on Tuesday approved the $5.1 million acquisition of the land in Santa Rosa County. It's part of a larger Florida Forever project to fill in protected land between Whiting and the Blackwater River State Forest.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Week in review (5/31 to 6/6)

The Gulf Coast region appears to be on its way to getting another aerospace park with access to a runway. The Office of the Assistant Under Secretary of the Navy has given an OK to Naval Air Station Whiting Field to negotiate with Santa Rosa County, Fla., for a limited use agreement that would allow tenants of the proposed Whiting Aviation Park in Milton to use a 6,000 foot runway to bring in aircraft requiring maintenance.

It’s not an unusual arrangement. In Okaloosa County, Crestview’s Bob Sikes Industrial Air Park has such an arrangement with the Air Force. And that’s allowed the park to create hundreds of jobs in the aviation field.

Economic development officials across the region know access to runways is certainly a plus in attracting aerospace companies. In Moss Point, Miss., the Trent Lott Aviation Technology Park is next to Trent Lott International Airport. Access to a runway there will allow Northrop Grumman to begin production test flights for the Fire Scout unmanned helicopters that are outfitted there.

One of the best-known examples in this region is Brookley Industrial Complex in Mobile, Ala. The former Air Force base that was closed in the 1960s has become an attractive location for aerospace companies because of the runway. That’s where EADS hopes to eventually build tankers and cargo planes.

In Mississippi, not far from the state line with Louisiana, Stennis International Airport is co-located with an aerospace park that has attracted two aerospace/geospatial operations – Optech International and the Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetry Technical Center of Excellence. The airport was also a finalist in the competition to attract EADS, and before that Boeing considered the site for a production facility that ended up remaining in Washington State.

For Santa Rosa County, this could be particularly important. The county is not only home to Whiting Field, where helicopter aviators are trained, but there are also key aerospace activities on both sides of the county. To the west Escambia County is home to Naval Air Station Pensacola, and to the east – and in Santa Rosa County itself – there’s the weapons development at Eglin Air Force Base, which is also scheduled to become the home of the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center. The Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field is also close to Santa Rosa County.

- Speaking of airfields and airports, Gulfport, Miss., is going to get some additional service. Grand Casino Biloxi and IP Casino Resort is teaming with Southern Skyways to offer nonstop flights between Atlanta and Gulfport three days a week at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. Flights operated by AirTran Airways will begin July 8.

A few new things developed on the tanker front during the week. No surprise there. We can expect to see a lot of stories in the coming weeks and months about the competition between Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS over the $40 billion tanker contract. The stakes are high: Boeing wants to build the planes in Washington State, and the Northrop Grumman/EADS teams wants to build them in Mobile, Ala.

- A report prepared by Northrop Grumman says buying aerial tankers from both companies could offer significant long-term savings. That goes against Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ claim that a split buy would add $7 billion to $14 billion to the price tag. Northrop points out that it’s not advocating a split buy, just providing the information.

- Reps. Jo Bonner and Artur Davis of Alabama wrote a commentary, published in the Washington Times, urging the Pentagon to build on the original Request for Proposal rather than go back to square one in the tanker competition. Northrop won the contract but it was overturned following a Boeing protest. The competition is scheduled to get underway again this summer.

- The aircraft Northrop wants to use for the tanker, the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport, conducted successful in-flight contacts using its new generation hose and drogue refueling pod. The tests of the underwing pods were performed with a Royal Australian Air Force A330 and F/A-18A fighter. The tanker also has a fuselage hose and drogue.

- Tom Enders, the chief executive of Airbus, says he doesn’t expect big orders at this month’s Paris Air Show. The show is being held June 15 to 21 at La Bourget Airport. As in the past, economic development officials from the Gulf Coast region will be attending, as they did last year at the Farnborough Air Show.

Enders is beginning to talk a lot more about the internationalization of Airbus. He says the company has to keep expanding abroad, and national sentiments have to be left behind for the company to stay competitive.

Airbus and parent EADS have not been shy about placing operations abroad. It has then in the United States, China, India and elsewhere. A new assembly line in China has already produced an aircraft that took its first flight recently. And India is pressing the company for an assembly line there. Not surprisingly, workers and their unions are opposed to more offshoring.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
Lockheed Martin during the week was awarded a $2.1 billion modification of a previously awarded Joint Strike Fighter air system low rate initial production Lot III advance acquisition contract to a cost-plus-incentive-fee/award-fee contract. It provides for the purchase of seven Air Force conventional take off and landing and one CTOL for the Netherlands; seven Marine Corps short take-off and vertical landing and two STOLs for the United Kingdom. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is scheduled to become home of the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center.

Meanwhile, a break may be looming in the dispute between the city of Valparaiso and the Air Force over the F-35. WEAR-TV reported during the week that the city and Air Force filed a joint motion to put Valparaiso's suit against the Air Force on hold for 90 days so they can work towards a settlement. The suit seeks to prevent the Air Force from establishing the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center at Eglin. Valparaiso, concerned about the noise, also has a suit over public records.

The Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.5 billion contract for the third highly elliptical orbit (HEO-3) payload, the third geosynchronous orbit (GEO-3) satellite and associated ground modifications for the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) constellation.

A contract to include a fourth HEO payload and possible fourth GEO satellite is expected to be awarded later this year.

The SBIRS program is designed to provide early warning of missile launches, and simultaneously support other missions including missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness. Lockheed Martin Space & Technology Center at Stennis Space Center, Miss., is one of the SBIRS work locations.

- An independent 10-member panel that will review the nation’s human space flight program will hold its first meeting June 17 in Washington. Recommendations will be made by the end of August. The administration last month announced formation of the panel and named former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine to head the panel. The remaining nine members were announced Monday. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans are involved in the space program.

Advanced materials
There’s plenty of reason for the Gulf Coast region to be interested in this item.

The Air Force Research Laboratory and Lockheed Martin had a demonstration flight of the Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft earlier this month in Palmdale, Calif. The ACCA is a modified Dornier 328J with the fuselage aft of the crew station and the vertical tail removed and replaced with new structural designs made of advanced composite materials fabricated using out-of-autoclave curing.

The ACCA program manager said the program has the potential of changing aircraft manufacturing.

This is of interest to the Gulf Coast region because South Mississippi has a national known advanced materials research program; the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing is located in New Orleans; unmanned aerial systems are built in Moss Point, Miss.; and EADS hopes to assemble tankers and cargo planes in Mobile, Ala.

Raytheon completed a series of hardware-in-the-loop lab tests on the GBU-53/B Small Diameter Bomb II's datalink, a crucial step to clearing the datalink for flight tests later this month at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Engineers verified the Rockwell Collins datalink worked as anticipated. Raytheon is competing for a GBU-53/B engineering and manufacturing development contract, scheduled to be awarded in late 2009 with delivery of production rounds beginning in late 2013. Eglin is home of the Air Armament Center, where the Air Force develops and tests aerial weaponry.

Iowa-based Rockwell Collins has completed the acquisition of satellite-based communication network developer DataPath Inc. Rockwell Collins acquired all outstanding shares of DataPath in a cash transaction worth some $130 million. Rockwell Collins has an operation at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

Aerovironment Inc. of Monrovia, Calif., is being awarded a $7 million modification to an existing contract increasing the contract maximum to $10,000,000 for updated DDL compliant Raven B Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle spares and retrofit kits in support of the U.S. Special Operations Command Program Executive Office - Fixed Wing. The work will be performed in Simi Valley, Calif., and is expected to be completed by August 2011. AeroVironment has an operation in Navarre, Fla.