Saturday, November 14, 2009

Week in review (11/8 to 11/14)

A few issues came up during the week in the aerial tanker competition, the battle between Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS to replace the Air Force’s fleet of KC-135s. It’s of interest to the Gulf Coast because the Northrop/EADS team plans to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala.

Sen. John McCain raised concerns about the Pentagon's latest attempt to replace the aircraft. In an Oct. 29 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, McCain asked detailed questions about how bids for the program would be evaluated, how decisions were made about requirements for the new airplanes and whether the new rules would favor mostly smaller airplanes. Reuters obtained a copy of the letter.

But McCain is hardly alone. Robert Burton, a former deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement, told InsideDefense that the tanker request for proposals is inconsistent with federal regulations and may violate the law. He said the draft request “goes against the spirit of the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act.” Burton focused on the draft request's use of a pass/fail approach for 373 mandatory criteria and awarding the contract to the lowest-priced plane that meets those criteria. (Story)

- The tanker competition came up during the week at the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation’s annual investors dinner in Moss Point, Miss. Mitch Waldman, Northrop Grumman’s point man on the tanker, said that if Northrop Grumman and teammate EADS win it will bring thousands of jobs to the area. Another speaker, Sen. Roger Wicker, called that process “politicized beyond what I’ve seen in my 15 years in Congress.” (Story)

- In another tanker story, EADS North America said the A330 tanker – the same type of plane that is being offered to the Air Force - achieved a milestone with its first nighttime refueling operation using the advanced Aerial Refueling Boom System. The Royal Australian Air Force A330 transferred more than 3,300 pounds of fuel through the ARBS during a multi-contact mission involving two F-16 fighter aircraft.

- Speaking of EADS North America, that company during the week delivered the first of five H-72A training helicopters to the Navy. The H-72A fleet will be based at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., where it is to be used to train test pilots from the U.S. military and allied countries. The H-72A shares the same airframe and is manufactured on the same production line as the Army’s UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter, both of which are produced in Mississippi by EADS North America’s American Eurocopter subsidiary in Columbus.

Joint Strike Fighter
There was also news during the week on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will become the home of the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center, which will train pilots on all variants of the plane.

The Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engine powering the F-35 completed altitude qualification ground testing, the final testing that demonstrates the operability and performance required for conventional take-off and landing and carrier variant initial service release (ISR). ISR is the government’s recognition that the F135 engine is ready for operational use and clears Pratt & Whitney to deliver and field production F135 engines.

- Also during the week, Vought Aircraft Industries said it has taken possession of an F-35C JSF test article from Lockheed Martin and will perform full-scale drop testing on the aircraft in early 2010. The tests are to verify the strength of the F-35C Navy variant landing gear and airframe structure for carrier landing operations. Actual drop testing is currently estimated to start in January and continue through April at the Vought Structures Test Lab in Dallas.

The Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has been awarded the Air Force Organizational Excellence Award. The center manages a $52 billion portfolio of air-launched precision attack, combat support and special project weapon applications. The center also provided full spectrum battle space test capabilities to more than 1,000 ongoing test programs to include aircraft, weapons, command and control and special operations for multiple joint and non-DoD agencies.

- The 8th Special Operations Squadron returned to Hurlburt Field, Fla., with their CV-22s during the week, wrapping up their first operational deployment with the tilt-rotor aircraft. The squadron deployed to Iraq with a Boeing contractor as part of the team. The Osprey, which came to Hurlburt in 2007, has the vertical takeoff and landing and hover capabilities of a helicopter and the long-range and speed of a turboprop fixed-wing airplane.

- The new airport being built near Panama City, Fla., is getting yet another name change. The airport authority voted during the week to change the name to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. It was a month ago that the authority settled on the name Northwest Florida-Panama City International Airport. The new airport is scheduled to open in May.

NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi is teaming with students at four Mississippi high schools to develop prototype hardware for the next-generation rockets being built to carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit. In the next few months, students at East Central High School in Hurley, Gulfport High School, New Albany School of Career and Technical Education and Petal High School will participate in the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware initiative. They’ll partner with NASA engineers and mentors and use materials provided by the space agency to develop prototype models for the next generation J-2X engine and the Ares I rocket.

Unmanned systems
News involving unmanned aerial systems is always of high interest to the Gulf Coast region, in part because a number of UAV activities take place here.

BAE Systems has successfully flown the largest fully autonomous unmanned aircraft ever to be built in the United Kingdom. MANTIS completed its maiden flight in Woomera, Australia. Mantis has a 65.6-foot wingspan and is intended to be able to carry electro-optical and radar sensors, as well as a range of air-to-surface weapons. BAE System’s partners in the project include Roll-Royce, QinetiQ, GE Aviation, Meggit and Selex Galileo. Of note to the Gulf Coast, BAE Systems, Roll-Royce, QinetiQ and Selex Galileo all have operations in the region. (Story)

- In another UAV-related story, Boeing received a $500,000 Air Force Research Laboratory contract for the first phase of a program to demonstrate miniature weapon technology for use on unmanned aerial vehicles. As the prime contractor during the initial nine-month program, Boeing will use its experience on the Joint Direct Attack Munition and Small Diameter Bomb programs to develop the system integration, seeker, avionics, guidance and control, and mission planning systems. (Story)

W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co., Biloxi, Miss., is being awarded a $37.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for construction of a community hospital tower at Keesler Air Force Base. Work will be performed in Biloxi and is expected to be completed by September 2011.

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