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.

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