A new military joint training program has been launched at a Navy outlying field near Holley in Santa Rosa County, Fla. It's yet another indication of the growing importance of unmanned systems for the nation's military.
The Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems will teach special operations personnel from all branches of the military how to operate Battlefield Air Targeting Micro Vehicles, unmanned aircraft used in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are the smaller aircraft launched by personnel on the field. The training center has its first class of 11 students.
Santa Rosa County is home to Whiting Field Naval Air Station. To its east is Hurlburt Field, home of Air Force Special Operations Command, and Eglin Air Force Base, where the Air Force develops air weapons systems. To the county's west is Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The Gulf Coast region has a growing footprint in the UAV field. Northrop Grumman builds portions of large UAVs - Global Hawks and Fire Scouts - at its Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss. Further to the west, there's at least one company that builds modules for sensors of UAVS at Stennis Space Center, Miss. And in Navarre, Fla., AeroVironment has a training site. In South Mississippi there's also a lot of work in the related field of sensors.
Don't be surprised if you see more activity in this field in this region. It's the wave of the future.
Joint Strike Fighter
There were some disappointed people in the Tyndall Air Force Base area near Panama City, Fla. They heard last week that the Air Force had come up with a short list of bases that are being considered for the Joint Strike Fighter - the F-35 - and Tyndall wasn't on the list. The base is losing its F-15 aircraft, and had hoped to convince the Air Force to bring in some F-35s. Now it looks like there best hope is with more F-22s.
The list did include Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which has already been chosen as the location for the JSF training school for all branches of the military. This list indicates it's being considered for more of the planes. Hardly a surprise. The short list includes 11 Air Force and Air Guard bases.
- Speaking of Eglin, the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, JASSM, successfully completed Lot 7 Reliability Assessment Program flight tests with 15 successes out of 16 flights Oct. 22. The tests were done at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., using B-52 bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and F-16 fighters from Eglin. The tests pave the way for awarding the Lot 8 production contract to Lockheed Martin. Eglin, home of the Air Armament Center, oversees the development of air weapons systems.
Boeing, Northrop, EADS and tankers
Boeing will have a new 787 production line in North Charleston, S.C. It's the second production line for the aircraft. The news came out last week, and was not really much of a surprise. Washington state had feared that was the direction Boeing was going. The facility will also be used to support the testing and delivery of the plane.
This was an incredibly big deal for Washington state. A group called the Washington Roundtable, which is composed of representatives from private sector employers in the state, said the decision by Boeing shows the group needs to work harder to make the state more competitive.
It was many years ago that Boeing moved its headquarters from Washington state to Chicago. And in more recent years the company has begun to outsource some production services. The production line in the South, where costs are lower and the unions are far weaker, certainly doesn't bode well for Washington state.
Many folks in the Gulf Coast are keeping a close eye on anything involving Boeing. Mobile, Ala., still hopes the team of Northrop Grumman/EADS will end up winning the contest against Boeing to build tankers for the Air Force. If the Northrop/EADS team wins, the planes will be assembled in Mobile.
- During the week, Northrop Grumman left open the possibility it might boycott the new aerial tanker competition. It faulted the draft bidding rules and continued to complain about the pricing information that had been given to Boeing after that company lost the competition in 2008. That loss was, of course, overturned, but Northrop was never given similar information on Boeing's pricing. The Pentagon has said that information is no longer relevant, then asked Boeing if it would agree to release it to its competition. Boeing declined. Seems like nobody likes this new competition. Boeing is also complaining.
- In another Boeing-tanker-Northrop-EADS story during the week, the governors of Alabama and Mississippi jointly announced on Monday formation of the "Aerospace Alliance," which also involves Louisiana and Florida. Their first order of business is doing what they can to help Northrop and EADS win the tanker project.
NASA successully launched the Ares I-X rocket during the week. The prototype rocket flew for about two minutes. The Ares I-X is part of the Constellation Program, which is designed to return astronauts to the moon and beyond. The Gulf Coast region is involved in Constellation through Michoud Assembly Facility, which is used to build some of the hardware, and Stennis Space Center, Miss., which tests propulsion systems for the program. The test was an important step for the Constellation Program, which is being re-evaluated by the Obama administration.
- Aerospace industry leaders will meet in Washington, D.C., on Monday to debate the future of America's space programs. A hot topic no doubt will be the findings of the Augustine Commission, which raised the issue of whether NASA has the necessary funds to pursue its plan to return astronauts to space. But another hot topic no doubt will the the successful launch of Ares I-X. Should be a fascinating meeting.
- Speaking of Stennis Space Center, on Friday of this coming week - Nov. 6 - the NASA center will receive official designation as a Project Ready site. The designation means it's shovel-ready for new projects. The 14,000-acre facility has been in existence since the 1960s, and has attracted over the years about 30 agencies, including the Navy. NASA says there are about 4,000 acres that are available for green field development.
- One final Stennis-related note: Meridian Community Collge established an engineering scholarship in honor of alumnus Gene Goldman, director of the NASA center. The first $1,000 scholarship will be awarded to an engineering student during the 2010 spring semester. After graduating from MCC, Goldman went on to earn degrees from Mississippi State University in Starkville.
W R Systems of Fairfax, Va., was awarded a $26.9 million contract for in-service engineering technical support services for various navigation systems. Three percent of the work will be done in Pascagoula, Miss. ... Bell Aerospace Services of Bedford, Texas, was awarded a $13.2 million contract to provide up to 145,152 hours of contractor engineering technical servides training for airframe, avionics and electrical systems of the H-1 aircraft. Nine percent of the work will be done in New Orleans, La. ... McDonnell Douglas of St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $72 million contract to provide guided vehicle kits for joint direct attack munitions. Eglin Air Force Base., Fla., is the contracting activity.