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.

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