Saturday, December 26, 2009

Week in review (12/20 to 12/26)

The Financial Times during the past week reported that Airbus fears a six-month delay in a crucial World Trade Organization report on Boeing could harm its chances of winning the multibillion-dollar Pentagon aerial tanker contract.

The WTO does not plan to release its interim report until June 2010 on Brussels’ claims that the United States had granted Boeing subsidies. Washington and Brussels accused one another of subsidising their respective aircraft makers illegally in October 2004, with each case being handled by a separate WTO panel. The one hearing the U.S. claim against Airbus handed down its draft report in September. (Story)

A developer has been chosen for the new Emerald Breeze Resort on Air Force Gulf-front property in Okaloosa County. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., chose Innisfree Hotels and Innisfree Development for the operation and development of a $24 million hotel and multi-use resort a dozen miles south of Eglin's west gate. The 17-acre property with 600 feet of Gulf frontage will continue its military function as a radar installation, and the resort will be open to military and civilian visitors.

- The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., was tasked by National Weather Service officials to fly its first winter storm of the season on the East Coast starting Dec. 25. The "Hurricane Hunters" normally collect weather data during tropical storms, but between hurricane seasons they have a lesser known role of collecting weather data during winter storms.

The United Kingdom received financial approval to buy its third Lockheed Martin F-35B operational test aircraft. The approval follows recent F-35 down-select or procurement commitments by Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy and the United States. More than 100 British companies are involved in the Joint Strike Fighter program. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will become home of the JSF training center.

- AeroVironment of Monrovia, Calif., has received a $23.9 million firm fixed-price order under an existing contract to upgrade existing analog Raven systems being used by the Army and Marine Corps. The Raven unmanned aircraft is a 4.2-pound, hand-launched sensor platform that provides real-time video imagery for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition in support of tactical units. AeroVironment has an operation in Navarre, Fla.

- An F-15C fired Raytheon’s AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder advanced, infrared-guided air-to-air missile as part of the missile's developmental testing program. The weapon successfully passed within lethal range of a BQM-74 target drone, meeting all primary test objectives. The Nov. 20 test occurred at the test range at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and marks the second time the missile has been fired.

A 15-story shuttle external tank from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans is now at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was a roughly 900-mile trip. The tank, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, will boost shuttle Discovery into orbit in March.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Week in review (12/13 to 12/19)

It wasn’t the most significant Gulf Coast-related aerospace story during the week, but it was certainly entertaining. I’m talking about the war of words over a comment made by a Washington politician about Alabama.

Sen. Patty Murray told NPR in early December that thousands of workers in Washington go to work every day building planes, but she challenged anyone to say they’ve seen “anybody build anything” in Alabama. Murray, of course, is a big supporter of Boeing's bid to build Air Force tankers.

Alabama politicians, who are backing the Northrop/EADS team that wants to build the planes in Mobile, Ala., immediately took up the challenge and got loads of ink and air time. They pointed out the many things produced in the state, not the least of which are high-tech space and defense systems.

But when Murray challenged anyone to say different about making things in Alabama, NPR should have taken up the challenge. It would have taken little to learn that in Alabama, major NASA and defense work is done in Huntsville, auto manufacturing plants dot the state and that shipbuilding is big business in Mobile. And that’s just the most cursory rundown. A sentence right after the Murray quote would have been appropriate.

It might not have stopped the reaction to the Murray quote, but it would have been the right thing to do. I went back to hear the report and the context. The audio for the “All Things Considered” story doesn’t have that particular quote from Murray, nor does the transcript. But the printed story on the NPR site does, along with other copy that never made it to the audio.

NPR had a follow-up story Saturday, saying the political bickering over the tanker has reached a new level. Perhaps the better word might have been “sunk” to a new level. The update notes that since the piece from earlier this month aired, NPR has received media requests for Murray's quote.

The update also points out that what’s been lost in the rhetoric is how long it will be before the Air Force gets new tankers. NPR says nobody has asked to rebroadcast the quote from a defense analyst that the arithmetic is starting to get a little worrisome.

Well of course not. That’s not nearly as entertaining.

- In a more newsworthy item on the tanker, the Pentagon is unlikely to change dramatically its list of requirements for a fleet of aerial tankers, despite objections, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said. Northrop Grumman and partner EADS have said the terms favor Boeing, and Northrop said it would not compete without significant changes that favor a smaller tanker. U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R.-Ala., said he’s unsure what Congress will do if the Northrop makes good on its threat.

An innovative method for joining composite structures passed a series of structural tests. The design was used to mate two segments of NASA’s composite crew module demonstrator test article, which represents the inner pressurized shell for the Orion crew module. Test results proved the mating process retains compartment pressure and withstands external loads at twice the level normally experienced in flight. The Orion is part of the Constellation program, NASA’s bid to return astronauts to the moon and beyond. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans are both involved in Constellation.

- Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne received the 2009 Large Business Prime Contractor Excellence Award from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. The company was recognized for exemplary support of the center’s subcontracting programs under the J-2X upper stage engine and space shuttle main engine contracts. The J-2X engine will power the nation’s next generation space launch vehicles, Ares I and V. The space shuttle main engine – all tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss. – is a reusable rocket engine that has powered the shuttles since 1981. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne also has an operation at Stennis Space Center.

- In another Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne item, the company during the week celebrated the opening of a new research facility on the campus of University of Alabama in Huntsville, Ala. It’s part of a collaborative effort designed to develop new technologies and business strategies for both company and the university. UAH will provide offices, laboratories and support so Rocketdyne personnel can collaborate on planning, research and development activities.

Harrison County, Miss., is on its way to buying 600 acres for an industrial park north of Interstate 10 that likely will be marketed to aerospace companies. Larry Barnett, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission, estimates the park will be ready for tenants in 2013. Barnett expects manufacturing appropriate for the aerospace corridor that runs along Interstate 10 from New Orleans to Florida.

- AirTran Airways flights will resume at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi on Jan. 8. The non-stop flights will initially be three days a week aboard a 117-seat Boeing 717. Jeremiah Gerald, director of air service and business development at the airport, said it’s been almost a year since AirTran pulled out of the Gulfport market.

Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., Pasadena, Calif., announced it's acquired Tybrin Corp., a 1,500-person professional services firm headquartered in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Terms were not disclosed. Founded in 1972, Tybrin is a supplier of mission planning solutions, systems engineering, software development, modeling and combat environment simulation, engineering and testing, range safety, and other services to the government.

Contract extension
ST Aerospace Mobile said Friday that it has won a three-year extension of a contract to maintain/overhaul Airbus A330s, Boeing 737s, Boeing 757s and Boeing 767s for US Airways. No terms were announced. It’s the second big contract announced this month for the company at Brookley Field Industrial Complex in Mobile, Ala. It earlier won a three-year $90 million contract to maintain Airbus A320s and Boeing 767s for an unnamed airline.

Star Aviation of Mobile, Ala., won its first military subcontract. MacAulay-Brown Inc., an engineering firm based in Dayton, Ohio, awarded the company a deal to work on combat survivor locator systems for Air Force C-130s. The value was not released. … Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $19.8 million contract which will provide the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile Production Lot 23 contract. 695 ARSS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … McDonnell Douglas Corp., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $114.6 million contract to provide support for small diameter bomb Increment 1 production for munitions, carriages and technical supports. 681 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Week in review (12/6 to 12/12)

It was an unusually slow week for Gulf Coast aerospace news, but then again, it usually is slower during the holiday season, what with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Here's a recap of the aerospace stories of interest to the Gulf Coast:

Propulsion systems
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne engines, the RS-68 and RL10, helped boost into orbit the third in a series of Wideband Global SATCOM satellites designed to improve military communications capabilities. The mission launched Dec. 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV. The Rocketdyne engines provided the booster (RS-68) and upper stage (RL10) propulsion. RS-68 engines are assembled and tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

- Rolls-Royce engines were chosen by United Airlines to power its new fleet of Airbus A350 XWB aircraft. The contract for 25 Airbus A350 XWB plus long-term service support is worth $2 billion. The aircraft are due to be delivered between 2016 and 2019. In addition, the airline has also announced future purchase rights for a further 50 aircraft. There are some 1,000 orders on the books now from 33 customers for the Trent XWB engine, which enters service in 2013. This story has several Gulf Coast tie-ins: Rolls-Royce next year or the year after will begin testing XWB engines at Stennis Space Center, and ATK will produce composite structures and tooling for the A350 XWB in Iuka, Miss. ATK, by the way, also has an operation in Northwest Florida.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., during the week confirmed that the base will host an air show in 2010. "75 Years of Eglin Pride" is the theme for the air show scheduled for April 10-11. A variety of aerial performers, including the Thunderbirds, will headline the show. Maj. Gen. C.R. Davis, Air Armament Center commander, said air shows allow the public to better understand the military mission.

- While on the topic of air shows and the Thunderbirds, Keesler Air Force Base’s “Thunder on the Bay” air show held this past April was named the Air Force Thunderbirds Best Military Show Site 2009. Thunder on the Bay was held April 4 and 5 at the base in Biloxi, Miss., and drew an estimated crowd of 142,000. Keesler's next air show will be March 19-20, 2011, and will feature the Navy Blue Angels, based at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.

The first Block 40 configuration of the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial system successfully completed its first flight last month. Designated AF-18, the Global Hawk flew about two hours from Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The company performs Global Hawk subassembly work at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., and final assembly at its Antelope Valley Manufacturing Center in Palmdale.

- On the topic of aircraft, the Army earlier this month awarded the fifth year contract for the Lakota Light Utility Helicopter to EADS North America for $247.2 million. The contract funds fiscal year 2010 production of UH-72A Lakotas to be delivered through June 2011, and brings the total number of Light Utility Helicopters ordered by the U.S. Army to 178. The contract ensures continuity of UH-72A deliveries from the American Eurocopter facility in Columbus, Miss.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Week in review (11/29 to 12/5)

The aerospace industry already knows the market for unmanned aerial systems is going to grow. And now an effort is under way to open up the potential customer base even more by changing the current limitation on sales to foreign customers.

Reuters reported during the week that in a letter to President Obama, signed by more than 100 chief executives, the Aerospace Industries Association urged a broad overhaul of the U.S. export control system. (Story) The industry wants to change the Missile Technology Control Regime, an agreement aimed at limiting the spread of unmanned delivery systems that could be used for weapons of mass destruction. MTCR was created in 1987 by Canada, France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, but membership has since grown to more than 30 countries.

But the AIA says subjecting slow, unarmed unmanned aerial systems with limited maneuverability and performance capability to the same restrictions as cruise missiles is unnecessary and inappropriate. The MTCR hasn’t stopped the United States from selling UAVs to other countries, it does complicate the process and makes it more time-consuming.

What a chance in the MTCR might do is unclear. As it is, worldwide spending on remotely piloted aircraft will more than double to $7.3 billion from $3.4 billion annually within a decade and total nearly $55 billion in the next 10 years, Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy, estimated in a 2008 market study.

Any increase in the potential customer base would be of high interest to the Gulf Coast. Global Hawk and Fire Scout UAVs are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., and there are other operations in the region involved in UAV work.

- Speaking of UAVs, 15 NATO nations will fund an air surveillance command and control system at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily. The Air Ground Surveillance system consists of eight Northrop Grumman Global Hawks. The NATO project is expected to cost between $1.5 billion to $2.3 billion. The project will be in place by 2012.

- The Coast Guard is actively pursuing a vertical-takeoff-and-landing unmanned aerial vehicle for its National Security Cutter, built in Pascagoula, Miss. In October, the service used Northrop Grumman's company-owned P6 Fire Scout for land-based tests in Maryland. It was equipped with off-the-shelf imaging surveillance radar. Northrop used its own money to integrate the radar on the P6, and in fact has been pouring R&D funds into the Fire Scout to reduce risk for potential customers.

During the week a letter from Northrop Grumman to the Pentagon saying it would not bid on the $40 billion tanker project unless changes are made in the draft request for proposals made a lot of headlines.

Northrop, which is teaming with EADS to offer the Airbus A330 and plans to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala., says that under the draft RFP the contest shows a clear preference for a smaller aircraft, like the one Boeing is expected to offer in the 767.

From what the Pentagon is saying, it doesn’t plan to make any substantial changes in the RFP when the final one is issued in January. But if you’ve been following this tanker issue, you know how quickly things can change. There’s a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering, no doubt. Some analysts said they believed Northrop Grumman is posturing, and preparing for a future protest. It does appear unlikely the Northrop/EADS team will simply walk away. A lot has been invested in the lucrative contract, and it’s simply too big a deal.

- In another Airbus-related item during the week, David Trent, head of the Airbus Engineering Center at Brookley Industrial Complex, was named 2010 chairman of the board of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce. The Airbus center has 145 employees who do interior design work on several Airbus commercial aircraft.

A congressional hearing during the week on astronaut safety turned into a pep rally for NASA’s Constellation program. Lawmakers and witnesses at the hearing endorsing Constellation and its Ares system as the best replacement for the shuttle. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, organized the hearing as a counter to a presidential panel that raised questions about the value of Constellation's Ares I rocket in favor of commercial launchers. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans are involved in the Constellation program.

Alliant Techsystems and Elbit Systems Ltd. successfully conducted flight tests of the Guided Advanced Tactical Rocket fired from an Army OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. The tests took place at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. GATR can be used in urban areas and against targets where a low collateral damage solution is required. GATR uses advanced acquisition, tracking and guidance algorithms to achieve one-meter accuracy against stationary and moving targets.

- Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans has begun $755 million worth of projects to modernize its facilities. It includes construction of a new concourse and the eventual abandonment of two old ones. The airport has identified 16 projects, including new signs and lighting at the terminal curbside and rescue station.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, is being awarded a $329.4 million modification to the previously awarded Joint Strike Fighter air system low rate initial production Lot III contract for special tooling and special test equipment. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home to the JSF training center. … Composite Engineering Inc., Sacramento, Calif., was awarded a $29.3 million contract which will provide Lot 7 option to procure a quantity of 36 additional BQM-167As. 691 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., is being awarded a $19 million modification to a previously awarded contract for AIM-9X Sidewinder (Block II) missile obsolescence and engineering technical support for the Navy and Air Force. Five percent of the work will be done at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. … EADS North American Defense, Arlington, Va., was awarded a $247.2 million contract for the funding of program year 2005 of the Army's Light Utility Helicopter program for 45 light utility helicopters and more. Work is to be performed in Columbus, Miss. EADS also has operations in Mobile, Ala. … GCC/Thomco LLC, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and CCI Group LLC, Shalimar, Fla., each were awarded $10 million contracts to provide base engineering requirements, maintenance, repair and minor construction efforts. 96 CONS/PKAC, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … ST Aerospace Mobile, Mobile, Ala., won a new airplane maintenance contract to maintain Airbus A320 and Boeing 767 planes belonging to an unnamed airline. The contract is worth $90 million for the first three years with an option for another two years worth another $80 million.