Saturday, August 8, 2009

Week in review (8/2 to 8/8)

If you’re interested in the space program, you might want to take advantage of an opportunity coming this week to the Gulf Coast region. A full scale mockup of NASA's Orion crew exploration vehicle will be moved from Florida to Texas to continue testing. But on the way to Houston the mockup will make several stops so the public can take a look.

After a stop in Tallahassee Monday, the mockup will be at Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Tuesday. It will be there from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., then it will be at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The mockup is used to study the environment for astronauts and recovery crews after an Orion ocean splashdown. The Gulf Coast region is involved in the space program primarily through the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, which will be involved in building Orion as well as portions of the launch vehicles, Ares I and Ares V. Stennis is the location where all the propulsion systems will be tested.

Unmanned systems
Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system recently reached the milestone of 25,000 combat hours during a sortie in July from a deployed location. It was first flown in 1998 and has logged 1,229 missions, many of them non-combat. It can reach more than 60,000 feet in altitude for more than 32 hours. Global Hawk central fuselage work is done in Moss Point, Miss., at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center.

- Last week officials from the Air Force and the academic community gathered in Grand Forks, N.D., at the University of North Dakota for a symposium on unmanned aerial systems. The goal of the three-day symposium was to identify opportunities for training, development and research, and to introduce the Air Force unmanned aircraft systems flight plan for 2009 to 2047.

A particularly interesting fact that came out of the symposium: The Air Force will train more drone pilots than fighter and bomber pilots this year because of the immediate demand. That's according to Gen. Stephen Lorenz. And he should know. He's commander of the Texas-based Air Education and Training Command.

North Dakota’s Gov. John Hoeven said his region is a premier location for UAV development. He said that due to the cold climate and the need to train in all types of weather, Grand Forks gives the Air Force an undeniable advantage. (Story)

It appears to this columnist that the Gulf Coast region needs to start making a big push to grab more of the military’s UAV action. Portions of two highly capable UAVs – Global Hawk and Fire Scout – are already being build in South Mississippi by Northrop Grumman, and AeroVironment has an operation in Northwest Florida.

This region is known for its military training activities, including pilot training. If the future means the training of more pilots to fly unmanned systems, then it seems appropriate to make a big push to ensure a large part of that training is done here. If not, this will be the one that years from now economic development officials bemoan as the one that got away.

The Pentagon wants to speed deployment of its 30,000-pound "bunker-buster" bomb to place on radar-evading Northrop Grumman B-2s soon as July 2010. The non-nuclear Massive Ordnance Penetrator, still being tested, is designed to destroy deeply buried bunkers beyond the reach of existing bombs.

The 20-foot long bomb built by Boeing is a third heavier than the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Burst Bomb, which was tested twice at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in 2003. The MOP program is also handled by Eglin.

- Speaking of bases, the Air Force is re-evaluating secondary bases that will be used for F-35 training, adding more criteria. That means all Air Force bases are again in the running again. The Arizona Republic reported last weekend that the Air Force secretary and the Air Force chief of staff asked that additional factors, such as housing, medical access and child care, be considered. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the primary training site, and Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho were top runners for the secondary location. Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., has been lobbying to become a site for the F-35s, so this may give it another shot. The base is scheduled to lose its F-15s earlier than local officials had originally thought.

- Five Air Force Reserve WC-130Js from Mississippi arrived at Hickam Air Force Base Friday to track Hurricane Felicia. The planes are with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, and are known as Hurricane Hunters. The planes fly into the eye of a hurricane to make critical measurements about the storm.

- Here’s one you might not have heard about. It's a bit dated, but still interesting. The Information Protection directorate hosted a workshop at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in June to exchange ideas about guarding information. Attending were more than 130 IP team members from major commands and installations. Cyber attacks on government systems have gotten the attention of the Defense Department, and the directorate was established in 2007.

That Boeing plant in South Carolina, recently purchased from Vought, was a hot topic last week in Washington state. A reporter for the Seattle P-I wrote that the purchase was discussed at an aerospace summit in Washington state. Of particular interest was a report by the Charleston Regional Business Journal about a move to decertify the International Machinists Union local at the former Vought plant. The journal also reports that a Boeing executive said the company is likely to make a decision about the location of its second 787 assembly line in the next five months.

So what? So Boeing is competing against Northrop Grumman and EADS to build a tanker for the Air Force, and any manufacturing-related activities of any of those companies may be important to that competition. The Northrop/EADS team wants to build the tankers in Mobile, Ala., and Boeing wants to build them in Washington.

New push
Avalex Technologies of Pensacola, Fla.,, known for aircraft display systems, is getting more involved in supplying displays and digital recorders for military ground vehicles. Company officials, who say 92 percent of their work is in aerospace, see continued growth in the military ground vehicle market. It’s projected to reach 25 percent of Avalex’s gross sales. On another note, Avalex may be moving its offices from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze, Fla., a community just a few miles away. The move will allow Avalex to expand.

2Q reports
Singapore Technologies Engineering reported its profit fell 9 percent for the second quarter of 2009 to $75.91 million from the second quarter 2008. It is the parent company of ST Mobile Aerospace Engineering, which has about 1,200 workers at Brookley Field Industrial Complex in Mobile, Ala., and VT Halter Marine, which has 1,500 employees at shipyards in Pascagoula, Moss Point and Escatawpa, Miss.

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