Saturday, August 29, 2009

Week in review (8/23 to 8/29)

One of the more fascinating aerospace issues playing out right now – one that has implications for the Gulf Coast region – is the controversy over where F-35 Joint Strike Fighters will be based. On the one side you have bases just begging to get some of the fighters, and on the other you have people who are afraid the jets will be too noisy and disrupt their lives.

One base that already knows its getting the F-35s is Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which will be the location of the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center. The base will be the initial training location for Air Force, Navy and Marine pilots, and it’s scheduled to get 59 of the planes in the spring of 2010.

But the city of Valparaiso, right outside the gate, is concerned that the planes are too loud and will have a negative impact on the Valparaiso economy, in part through lowering the value of properties. The Air Force has been looking at ways to mitigate the impact.

The Air Force has held a series of meeting with communities, and the last one was held in Valparaiso last week to discuss alternatives. There are 18 options under consideration, including using Eglin Main, Duke Field or Choctaw Field – all part of Eglin – as the main operating base for the new aircraft. Earlier in the week, Eglin officials hosted a meeting in Navarre to discuss the Choctaw Field option.

Valparaiso is not alone in its concern over noise. Folks around Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia are not sure they want F-35s. The Navy was expected to release last week an environmental impact statement related to plans to build a new outlying field in Virginia or North Carolina for practice carrier landings.

But the statement is being delayed because the Navy figured the first step really has to be determining whether it will even base F-35C aircraft at Oceana. And it’s not at all certain that they will because locals have complained plenty over the noise from the current crop of jets.

Plans for the Oceana outlying landing field include five potential sites, but local residents surrounding those sites have opposed the facility as a noise hazard with few economic benefits, according to the Navy Times. The Navy’s original plan in 2002 called for a new landing field in Washington County in eastern North Carolina, but that was blocked by a lawsuit filed by local opponents. (Story)

But there are plenty of locations just drooling for the F-35s, including bases in Arizona and Idaho. The folks around Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle are also making a pitch to get F-35s. Bay County supporters of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., plan a new Web site that promotes the base’s capabilities in a bid to get F-35s and other missions. At the request of the Bay Defense Alliance, Applied Research Associates is donating its services to develop the site.

Speaking of Eglin Air Force Base, the Air Force’s program executive officer for weapons says he does not expect major changes in the air-launched weapons portfolio as a result of the Quadrennial Defense Review, but some programs in production could see fewer units procured.

According to Aviation Week, Maj. Gen. Charles Davis, who also serves as commander of the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., said there’s some pressure about the quantities of weapons being bought that are not regularly used in Afghanistan and Iraq. He declined to specify any weapons.

Air-launched weapons in production include Lockheed Martin’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Raytheon’s AIM-120 C7 and D Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles and AIM-9X short-range air combat missile, and Boeing’s 250-pound Small Diameter Bomb and Joint Direct Attack Munition.

The QDR, a bottom-up review of defense strategy and force structure requirements, is ongoing and results aren’t yet out. (Story)

The test firing of the Ares I solid rocket motor was canceled last week just 20 seconds before the test at contractor ATK’s facility in Utah. A broken valve of an auxiliar power unit appears to have been at fault. Ares I, part of NASA’s Constellation Program, faces an uncertain future. A commission named to review the manned space program is supposed to present its findings Monday, but has already indicated NASA does not have ample funding to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans are both involved in the Constellation Program.

Two new T-6B Texan II training aircraft arrived at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, in Milton, Fla., during the week. They are the first of 156 aircraft that will be phased in over the next few years to replace the T-34C Turbo Mentors that have been used at Whiting since 1978. The new plane is bigger, faster and has a digital cockpit, like the advanced aircraft now used by the military.

- The 81st Training Wing and 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., dedicated the Colonel Lawrence E. Roberts Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Facility at the end of the week. The 140,000 square-foot complex was named in honor of Roberts, who flew with the Tuskegee Airmen and made Biloxi his home until his death in 2004. The two-story, $22.6 million facility will be used to maintain the new C-130J six bladed composite propeller, and many other significant aircraft maintenance capabilities.

- In another naming ceremony earlier in the week, this one in Florida, Eglin Air Force Base’s hospital inpatient tower was named for Col. Adanto D’Amore. D’Amore served as the 96th Medical Group commander from the hospital’s inception to its completion.

The second A330 tanker transport aircraft for Australia during the week completed its mission equipment outfitting with a successful “power on” and is being readied for pre-delivery flight testing. The power on test was to check the operation of more than 400 installed wiring harnesses. The aircraft is the same basic configurate as the KC-45 Northrop Grumman and EADS are offering to the United States for its tanker.

- In another Boeing story during the week, the company said it is ready to take the first steps to make it easier to build a second 787 final assembly line in North Charleston, S.C., should it chose to do so. The former Vought plant already makes part of the airplane's fuselage. The company said no decision has been made, and that Boeing simply intends to take the procedural step of filing the necessary permits.

There were at least three DoD contracts during the week that have a Gulf Coast connection. Atlantic Electric of North Charleston, S.C.,was awarded a $14.9 million contract to repair and replace airfield lighting at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans. … Anderson Drace Joint Venture, Gulfport, Miss., was awarded a $14.5 million construction contract for a dormitory at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. … Northrop Grumman, San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $13.4 million modified contract for Global Hawk engineering, manufacturing and development activities to develop replacement of the current engine turbine with its commercial variant. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

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