Saturday, July 25, 2009

Week in review (7/19 to 7/25)

South Mississippi's Stennis Space Center is getting ready to mark the end of an era. The last planned Space Shuttle Main Engine test is scheduled for Wednesday, July 29 at 2 p.m. The media has been invited to see the historic event at the NASA center.

The shuttle engines have been tested at Stennis for 34 years. Now the center is gearing up to help NASA prepare for the next era of human spaceflight – the Constellation Program. The J-2X engines will be tested at Stennis.

- In another Stennis-related item during the past week, Lockheed Martin said the second Highly Elliptical Orbit payload and ground system modifications of the Space Based Infrared System have been accepted for operations by the Air Force.

That paves the way for the Strategic Command's formal certification of the HEO-2 system next month. SBIRS is designed to provide early warning of missile launches and support other missions. Subsystems are built at the Lockheed Martin Mississippi Space and Technology Center at Stennis.

Ongoing controversies
On the tanker front during the past week, the House Appropriations Committee said it must review terms of the competition in the aerial tanker project. That, according to some analysts, increases the chance of politicking and that in turn may prompt Defense Secretary Robert Gates to agree to split the contract between Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team. Northrop/EADS plan to assemble the tankers in Mobile, Ala., if they win. Boeing will build them in Washington if it wins.

Further to the east and in an entirely different controversy, a federal judge during the week dismissed Valparaiso, Fla.’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Air Force. That was expected after the Air Force agreed the week before to provide F-35 noise data to the city. Negotiations continue over Valparaiso’s suit against the Air Force over its decision to bring 59 F-35s to Eglin Air Force Base, which is scheduled to become the home of the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center.

The 46th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., welcomed a new leader during the week. It’s Col. Michael Brewer, who previously was vice commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center, Det. 3, Edwards AFB, Calif.

- In another base-related item during the week, Santa Rosa County, Fla., and the Navy reached an agreement to let businesses in a planned aviation park in Milton use a Whiting Field Naval Air Station runway. Whiting Aviation Park will be built on 267 acres of land adjacent to the base. Economic development officials see a runway near an aviation park as a big plus.

The first two EADS North America-built UH-72A Lakota helicopters to be based outside of the continental United States have been delivered to the Army for operations in Puerto Rico. The helicopters are made in Columbus, Miss., by American Eurocopter, an EADS North America company.

- The Pentagon ordered 62 more M777 howitzers from BAE Systems in a deal worth $117 million. The additional work for the company’s Barrow, UK, and Hattiesburg, Miss., facilities pushes manufacturing on current sales well into 2012. The Hattiesburg facility opened in 2003.

- Antisubmarine warfare training may get a new airborne tool to detect marine mammals that sometimes limit training exercises. Advanced Coherent Technologies LLC of San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $7.7 million contract for a Phase III Small Business Innovation Research project called “Living Marine Resources Imaging Sensor.” The contract provides for the continued development of a flight ready prototype sensor. Sixty percent of the work will be done in Mobile, Ala.

New projects
Officials in Santa Rosa County, Fla., say the county is in the running for a military-related service center that could employ 800 people. The executive director of TEAM Santa Rosa Economic Development Council told the board of directors during the week that she could find out this week if East Milton is chosen as one of three sites in Florida to compete with four other states for the facility.

- In Mobile, Ala., the federal government wants to lease 24,000 square feet of office space downtown or at the Brookley Field Industrial Complex for Department of Homeland Security agencies. Mobile Airport Authority officials said they've offered the first building in a proposed office park that the authority would like to build on South Broad Street, south of Fort Whiting and across the street from the Airbus engineering center.

2Q reports
Aerospace companies with operations along the Gulf Coast issued second quarter 2009 reports during the week. Lockheed Martin reported net earnings of $734 million compared to $882 million in 2008. Net sales were $11.2 billion, compared to $11.0 billion in 2008. … The Boeing Co.’s second-quarter revenues rose 1 percent to $17.2 billion, while earnings per share rose 22 percent. … Northrop Grumman Corp. reported earnings from continuing operations totaled $394 million compared with $483 million in the second quarter of 2008. … Goodrich Corp. reported sales of $1.7 billion, a decrease of 8 percent compared to the second quarter 2008 sales of $1.8 billion. … Raytheon Co. reported income from continuing operations of $504 million, up 17 percent compared to $432 million in the second quarter 2008. … Teledyne Technologies reported a profit of $25.2 million, down 23 percent from the second quarter of 2008.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Week in review (7/12 to 7/18)

A small step was taken during the past week to resolve the differences between the city of Valparaiso, Fla., and the Air Force over the establishment of the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center at Eglin Air Force Base.

Valparaiso city commissioners approved a settlement in the city’s Freedom of Information Act suit filed against the Air Force. The Air Force agreed to give Valparaiso all of the noise data within 30 days of the settlement’s signing. But another suit, one that seeks to derail work on the center, is ongoing.

The conflict between Valparaiso and the Air Force has been dragging on for some time now. At issue is concern over the noise level of the F-35s. The aircraft will be used by all branches of the service as well as foreign nations. Eglin is the initial joint center for training, though other bases will eventually be used as well.

Many areas interested in bringing the F-35 to their area are keeping a close eye on this Air Force-Valparaiso conflict.

- In another F-35-related item during the week, Pratt & Whitney was awarded a $571.1 million modification to the previously awarded F-35 engine contract. The engine is designated F-135. The contract is for low rate initial production. It’s notable because it sets the final price and fully funds the purchase of engines for seven Air Force and one Royal Netherlands Air Force conventional take off and landing engines, seven Marine Corps and two United Kingdom short take off and vertical landing engines, as well as associated items.

Unmanned systems
Air Force leaders last month approved the Air Force Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan, which outlines a coordinated strategy for UAV integration across all Air Force functions. The plan highlights capabilities that will revolutionize UAV operations, including multi-aircraft control.

This is of high interest to this region because the Gulf Coast is deeply involved in UAVs. Northrop Grumman builds Global Hawk and Fire Scout, in Moss Point, Miss., and UAV-maker AeroVironment has a training operation in Navarre, Fla.

- On the topic of Global Hawk, Northrop Grumman during the week was awarded a $26.6 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for additional operations and maintenance support for the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration Program. That's the project the Navy is using to explore the uses of the aircraft, which will play a crucial role in the Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance system.

- Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout showed off its capabilities in an unusual way last month. Northrop Grumman said this past week that a Fire Scout unmanned helicopter testing in the United States provided real-time video feed of electro-optical/ infrared sensor imagery to participants at the Paris Air Show.

Work on a pair of transfer docks for the new rocket test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss., has been completed. The docks allow barges to deliver fuels to the A-3 Test Stand via Stennis’ seven-and-one-half-mile canal system that connects the site to the Pearl River. From the docks, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen will be loaded into run tanks and used to conduct engine tests. The A-3 stand will be used to test the J-2X engine for the Constellation Program.

- Two Stennis Space Center projects are among the 20 selected for NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program. The NASA Innovation Fund was established to advance work from NASA innovators on novel technologies and concepts that have the potential to revolutionize the way NASA performs its missions. More than 230 proposals were submitted. Each project is funded for a maximum of $50,000, with work to be completed by the end of September.

- The U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration is providing a $24,000 grant to Waveland, Miss., to develop a feasibility study on establishing a business incubator. The grant will determine the viability of a business incubator to nurture technology and engineering-based businesses and help Waveland capitalize on its proximity to Stennis Space Center.

Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., was chosen as the site for the new Undergraduate Cyberspace Training Unit, a program that will teach its students how to protect communications networks. The first class begins in the fall of 2010.

The training will include how to design, secure, assess, exploit, attack and defend various communication networks, including telephones, Internet protocol, satellite, land mobile radio, industrial control systems, integrated air defense and tactical data link.

Meanwhile, a course that’s been taught for six decades at Keesler is ending and being merged with other career fields. The last radio communications operations class in the 336th Training Squadron graduates this week.

- At Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base and Valparaiso, Fla., an upcoming project will improve the electrical system, security and parking. Construction is expected to begin in November on a number of improvements, including a realignment of the road leading to the airport’s terminal.

Meanwhile, an F-15 from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin is going on permanent display at the airport. It was brought over during the week and the display is expected to be completed in August. Another Eglin F-15 was sent to Mobile, Ala., where it will be part of the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.

The first Airbus A330 slated for the United Kingdom’s strategic tanker program has arrived ahead of schedule at the Airbus facility in Madrid, Spain, to begin its conversion into a multi-role tanker transport. The Royal Air Force tanker uses the same airframe as Northrop Grumman’s KC-45, which is proposed for the U.S. Air Force’s tanker fleet. If EADS and partner Northrop Grumman win the Air Force contract, the KC-45 will be assembled in Mobile, Ala. If Boeing wins it will be assembled in Washington.

L-3 Crestview Aerospace cut 28 jobs during the week – the same number of positions that were cut in May. The company blamed the cuts on the decrease in demand in the commercial aviation sector. The company, one of the largest employers in Okaloosa County, is a subsidiary of L-3 Integrated Systems and does aircraft modification and aerostructure fabrication.

In addition to the two contracts mentioned above, there were two other contracts of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region. Bell Boeing Joint Project Office, Amarillo, Texas, was awarded a $24.5 million contract for the development and delivery of safety corrective actions, reliability and aintainability improvements, and quick reaction capability improvements in support of V-22 Osprey missions for the Air Force Special Operations Command and the Marine Corps. Ospreys are used by the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Fla. … McDonnell Douglas Corp., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $12.1 million contract to provide massive ordnance penetrator on B-2 platform. AAC/708th, Eglin Air Force Base, is the contracting activity.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Week in review (7/5 to 7/11)

The week ended on a high note for workers at the Lockheed Martin Mississippi Space and Technology Center at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $262.5 million contract for the long lead parts and material procurement for the 4th Space Based Infrared Systems Geosynchronous Earth Orbit Satellite and the 4th Highly Elliptical Orbit Payload. The operation at Stennis builds subsystems for SBIRS as well as other Lockheed satellites.

- To the west at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Jacobs Engineering Group assumed operational management of the facility. Jacobs was awarded the manufacturing support and facility operations contract May 1, and officially took over from Lockheed Martin July 1. It will employ about 450 workers. Michoud has been selected as the site to manufacture several major components for the Constellation Program.

- The Constellation Program continues to move forward, despite the question about its fate pending a review by a special panel. The new crew launch vehicle, Ares I, is moving from the computer-aided design workstations to various fabrication facilities. Experts in friction stir-welding have produced their first tank dome using the same robotic tool that Boeing will use in upper stage production at Michoud. And development of the J-2X, which will power the Ares I upper stage and the earth departure stage, is moving along. Power-pack trials were done at Stennis Space Center. The A2 test stand will be modified for the J-2X after the last space shuttle main engine test in September.

- Sauer Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., was awarded $7 million under a previously awarded multiple award construction contract for the design and construction to renovate three facilities at Stennis Space Center. It includes work on building 3205 and a new buoy blast & paint facility for the National Data Buoy Center.

Remember when Sen. Daniel Inouye said he hadn’t ruled out the possibility of a buying tankers from both Boeing and Northrop? Well the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee has changed his mind and now opposes that. Inouye told Bloomberg that his view has evolved since last month. Now he said it may be “much more expensive” to buy from two companies. EADS and partner Northrop Grumman will be competing against Boeing for the Air Force contract. EADS plans to establish a tanker assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., if it wins.

- Speaking of Boeing, the company went ahead and agreed to buy for $580 million the Vought Aircraft Industries plant in South Carolina. The Vought facility does fabrication and assembly of structures and systems installation of 787 aft fuselage sections, made primarily of composite materials. Boeing will acquire the assets and inventory and assume operation of the site. This transaction is anticipated to close in the third quarter. Once acquired, the North Charleston facility will be managed by the 787 program. There’s a chance this plant could wind up as a 787 assembly line. But we’ll have to see.

- Boeing’s competitor in the tanker competition, EADS, recently demonstrated nighttime operational capabilities of its refueling boom of its aerial tanker, which is based on an A330. The multi-contact mission was with an F-16 fighter aircraft. The boom’s system features laser infrared lighting and high-definition digital stereoscopic viewing.

- A Bloomberg news columnist during the week came up with an interesting way to resolve two problems faced by the aerospace industry. The suggestion: Airbus should drop its troubled A400 troop transport so European nations can buy proven transports from the United States. And in return, the United States should buy the already flying Airbus A330 aerial tanker. It would help aerospace companies on both continents, who in the future will face challenges from China’s and India’s aerospace industries.

Joint Strike Fighter
The future 33rd Operations Group deputy commander is now at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., preparing for his role at the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center. Navy Capt. Mike Saunders arrived at Eglin a few weeks ago and is working with the F-35 Joint Site Activation Task Force. He’s the first senior staff member of the future F-35 wing. Saunders background includes leading the Navy Fighter Weapons School and Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center. Air Force Col. James Ravella, future group commander, arrives next month.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Week in review (6/28 to 7/4)

In the world of unmanned aerial systems, it doesn’t get much more fascinating than the work being done by California’s AeroVironment. The Monrovia-based company, which has a training operation in Navarre, Fla., is working on a flapping-wing micro unmanned system.

The prototype bird-like unmanned aircraft in April received $2.1 million in Phase II funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency under its Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) program – initiated to develop a new class of air vehicles capable of indoor and outdoor operation. It was awarded after the company accomplished controlled hovering flight, using the wings for propulsion and control. The battery-powered vehicle climbed and descended, flew sideways, and forward and backward. (Video)

What’s fascinating about this is that the UAV employs biological mimicry on an exceptionally small scale. The goal is to provide the military with new reconnaissance capabilities in urban environments. (Story)

AeroVironement is also involved in DARPA’s Stealthy, Persistent, Perch and Stare (SP2S) program. DARPA wants to develop the technology for air vehicles capable of flying to difficult targets, landing on and securing to a “perch” position, conducting sustained, perch-and-stare surveillance missions, and then re-launching from its perch and returning to its home base.

The key technical challenges include multifunctional materials that integrate the airframe structure with the power supply and antennas, control systems, perch-and-grip technology and all the technologies associated with a micro camera. AeroVironment is using its Wasp platform. That hand-launched, battery-powered UAV weighs just under one-pound and has a wingspan of 29 inches.

Developments in this field are of high interest to the Gulf Coast region. Northrop Grumman builds unmanned aerial systems – Global Hawk and Fire Scout – at a plant in Moss Point, Miss. And the Gulf Coast is also the home of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, which does research in biological mimicry. Among its projects is one where a machine that can “walk” over uneven terrain.

Is Boeing going to set up an aircraft assembly line in the Southeast? That was some of the buzz during the week. Multiple news organizations reported that Boeing may buy supplier Vought Aircraft Industries’ plant in North Charleston, S.C., and establish a second 787 assembly plant there.

The plant makes fuselage sections for the 787, but the purchase would put more of the troubled 787 program directly under Boeing’s control. Analysts say it would make sense as a way to cope with the backlog of orders for the program, already two years behind schedule.

Washington state, of course, wants to keep any second line in Puget Sound, but South Carolina is a "right to work state" and was in the running in 2003 when Boeing was looking to build the 787 outside of Washington. Mobile, Ala., and Hancock County, Miss., were among the finalists for the 787 plant in 2003.

- Boeing chose Alliant Techsystems to make the upper stage ullage motors for the Ares I launch vehicle. The Ares I is NASA's two-stage rocket that will launch astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft on missions to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond. The ullage motor is similar to the Space Shuttle booster separation motor. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center, Miss., are both involved in the Constellation Program. Boeing has an operation at Michoud and ATK an office in Northwest Florida.

Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., will see a decrease of 31 military positions and an increase of 15 civilian positions as a result of the Air Force's proposed force structure realignment for fiscal 2010. The 81st Training Wing will have an increase of 14 civilian positions, while the 85th Engineering Installation Squadron and the 19th Operational Group Detachment 6 each will get an additional position. The 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron's aeromedical staging flight will see a decrease of 31 military positions due to mission transfer earlier this year. Other miscellaneous actions resulted in a decrease of one civilian position.

- A proposal by the city of Mary Esther, Fla., to annex a 3-mile stretch of Hurlburt Field is designed to make his city larger and increase state revenue-sharing dollars. The annexation would add 2,000 residents who live in base housing and barracks on the land. The city would not assume any new services or maintenance duties, but residents of the annexed area would be able to vote in local elections and run for office. Mary Esther's population is about 4,500 now.

- Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi is adding a fourth daily flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport. The expanded service starts Aug. 25 on American Airlines/American Eagle. The additional flights will leave Gulfport at 10:55 a.m. daily and leave Dallas for the Coast at 11:10 a.m.

- Officials from the 16th Special Operations Squadron held a squadron flag-transfer ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., to mark the official transfer of the squadron from Hurlburt Field, Fla. The 16th SOS flies the AC-130H gunship and conducts missions such as close-air support, air interdiction and force protection. The AC-130H is armed with 40 mm and 105 mm cannons. Det. 1 of the 16th SOS stood up at Cannon in July 2008 to prepare the way for the arrival of eight aircraft and nearly 500 people.

Fire Scout
In Moss Point, Miss., a taxiway linking the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center to the Trent Lott International Airport should be operational soon. Right now is just needs lighting. Northrop Grumman does finishing work on the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter at the center, and wants to do product flight testing in South Mississippi. Jackson County Economic Development Director George Freeland said the addition of the taxiway could create at least 16 more jobs at the center.

- A Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout successfully completed first flight operations at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz. Unlike current Navy configured Fire Scouts, this one, designated P7, was built for land-based operations and is the first MQ-8B to fly without flight test instrumentation usually installed for developmental flights. The P7's tests will continue throughout the summer. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

A $2.4 million state grant will be used by a GE Aviation and the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Polymers and High Performance Materials for research on composite materials for an GEnx engine to power the Boeing 787 and 747-8 aircraft. The grant is from the Mississippi Development Authority. GE Aviation, which has a plant in Batesville producing composite-material parts for jet engines, will spend $2.5 million on the research. About 15 to 20 USM students and faculty will work on the one-year project.

- Rolls-Royce received type certification for the new BR725 engine that will power the first flight of the Gulfstream G650 business jet later in the year. Type certification was from the European Aviation Safety Agency. Testing was done at various Rolls-Royce locations in Europe and the United States, including the outdoor jet engine testing facility at NASA’s John C Stennis Space Center, Miss.

This and that
- Members of the Air Force Reserve Command's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron deployed to their detachment to St. Croix, U.S.V.I. to fly training missions over the Caribbean in preparation for the 2009 hurricane season. Unit Airmen are part of the 403rd Wing located at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and are the only Department of Defense unit flying into tropical storms and hurricanes collecting critical data. During the next months until Nov. 30, the Hurricane Hunters will be honing their skills in special WC-130J Hercules aircraft.

- Goodrich Corp. opened a new facility in China’s Tianjin Airport Industrial Park to support nacelle and thrust reverser original equipment as well as maintenance, repair and overhaul activities. Part of Goodrich's Aerostructures business, the 50,000 square foot facility will perform work for customers in the region. It also will support engine buildup and podding work for the new Airbus A320 family aircraft final assembly line in Tianjin. Goodrich's Aerostructures business runs the Alabama Service Center in Foley, Ala., which provides maintenance, repair and overhaul services on nacelles, doors, fairings, flight controls, pneumatic ducting and wire harnesses.

- The Justice Department has joined a whistleblower lawsuit over a $3.2 billion contract to provide support services at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The suit claims Science Applications International Corp. conspired with federal officials to rig the technology contract awarded in 2004. The suit claims three former or current federal employees conspired to steer a computer project to SAIC. A company started by one of those former employees had teamed up with SAIC to bid on the contract. The suit was filed by David McGee, a former employee at the center.

- A restored Lockheed Electra, the type of plane Amelia Earhart was flying when she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, was unveiled Thursday at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. July 2 was the 72nd anniversary of Earhart's disappearance during an attempt to circle the globe. The musem's Electra is painted in Navy colors with dark blue wings, but is otherwise outfitted the same as Earhart's plane.

Lockheed Martin is being awarded a $441.9 million modification to definitize the 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. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is scheduled to become the JSF Training Center. … Kaman Precision Products Inc., Orlando, Fla., is being awarded a $53 million firm-fixed contract for joint programmable fuze systems. 679th Armament Systems Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.