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.

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