Saturday, January 30, 2010

Week in review (1/24 to 1/30)

What do you do with a product that just two months ago was named the best invention of 2009? Well, what else? If you're the federal government, you scrap it. That appears to be in the future for the Ares I rocket.

People from Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans - and a host of other locations with NASA facilities - will be paying close attention Monday when President Barack Obama releases his budget request for fiscal year 2011. Published reports say it will include no money to fund the Constellation Program, NASA's Bush-era project to return astronauts to the moon and beyond.

And it won't just be the NASA workers that will be paying attention. Any company involved in building the Ares I, Ares V, Orion crew capsule, Altair Lunar Lander or lunar bases will be taking note of the budget request. And who can blame them? We're talking billions of dollars worth of work and thousands of jobs, some with NASA, some with contractors.

Reports indicate the administration wants NASA to forget about going back to the moon and instead focus on earth science projects like research on global warming. The budget reportedly calls for extending the life of the International Space Station and having commercial companies develop vehicles to ferry astronauts to the ISS. It means an entirely new set of winners and losers.

But the budget proposal is simply the opening round of a process that will take months. There will be a lot of hearings, and Congress will get a chance to pounce on the budget – and pounce they will. NASA and the Constellation Program have strong bipartisan support, and what eventually leaves the Hill may look nothing like the document handed to them.

You can bet your tax refund that political forces from California, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Utah and other states with voters who have a stake in the Constellation Program are mustering the troops. Many have already expressed outrage. You'll hear them say the proposed direction shift will end U.S. leadership in space. And for anyone who remembers the space race and the pride of overtaking the Soviet Union, that will resonate.

But pride aside, it will boil down to jobs. For an administration that’s placed a priority on job creation, this is a peculiar step. The most immediate impact will be the loss of jobs for those involved in Constellation, including companies like ATK, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

What's frustrating is just how much money is wasted as directions change from one administration to another. It's happened countless times before, and I suppose we should be used to it by now. In this case, some $9 billion has been spent on Constellation over the past six years, and a lot of intellectual capital has been put into the program.

We can see some of that work right here in the Gulf Coast. Stennis Space Center has been working on the A-3 test stand that will be used to test the Constellation Project’s J-2X engines, and construction is well underway at Michoud Assembly Facility to prepare it for work on the Ares I upper stage and avionics. The most public display of the Constellation Program was in October with the successful test launch in October of the Ares I-X from Kennedy Space Center.

A month after that launch, the Ares I rocket got top honors in TIME magazine's "Best Inventions of 2009" special edition. The magazine calls the rocket the "best and coolest and smartest thing built in 2009." The magazine’s Paul Kluger noted that Ares I's first flight "dazzled even the skeptics."

So stay tuned. The battle has just begun.

Now for the week in review:

Joint Strike Fighter
A pilot from the Royal Air Force during the week became the third active-duty service pilot - and the first from the United Kingdom - to pilot the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Squadron Leader Steve Long piloted BF-2, a short takeoff/vertical landing F-35B, over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

Long flew the aircraft to 20,000 feet before landing 1.3 hours later. He said he was particularly pleased with the sensors and the level of situational awareness. Both the RAF and the Royal Navy plan to operate the F-35B. The other active-duty pilots to previously fly the F-35 were from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon's 2011 budget will seek nearly $11 billion for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter according to a draft overview obtained by Defense News. The budget is due to be sent to Congress Monday. That's of interest to the Gulf Coast region, since Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center.

A 10-month gap between World Trade Organization rulings on cases involving government subsidies to Boeing and Airbus could hinder the ability of the EU and U.S. to arrive at a settlement. During the week, an EU spokeswoman said the two cases are so similar that the WTO appeals body should rule on both at the same time.

The WTO in September said Airbus was receiving subsidies, but won’t rule on the alleged subsidies to Boeing until June. Airbus parent EADS is teamed with Northrop Grumman and competing against Boeing to build tankers for the Air Force. EADS plans to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala.

The commander of Air Force Space Command certified 24th Air Force for its initial operational capability Jan. 22. The 24th Air Force, activated in August 2009 at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, is a component numbered Air Force subordinate to Air Force Space Command located at Peterson.

"Cyberspace operations represent one of the critical and major areas of growth within the Air Force today," said Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, the 24th Air Force commander. Air Force cyber training is done at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

- Medics from the 1st Special Operations Support Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla., have performed dozens of surgeries, evacuated scores of citizens and delivered tons of supplies as part of the ongoing relief effort in Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake. The squadron's special operations surgical teams, special operations critical care evacuation teams, and special operations forces medical elements arrived in Haiti Jan. 13.

- The body of Lt. Clinton Wermers, a Navy pilot whose training plane crashed last weekend in Lake Pontchartrain, was recovered by divers.

Wermers, an instructor, and a student aviator were in a T-34C Turbo Mentor assigned to Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla., when they crashed around 7 p.m. Jan. 23 on approach to the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. The student was rescued Saturday.

A native of South Dakota, Wermer’s remains were recovered Wednesday. The plane was assigned to Training Squadron 6 and was on a routine training mission when it crashed.

4Q reports
Goodrich Corp. earned a $105 million profit in the fourth quarter, down 38 percent from $168.7 million in the last three months of 2008. The company has a service center in Foley, Ala. … Lockheed Martin Corp. reported fourth quarter 2009 net earnings of $827 million compared to $823 million in 2008. Lockheed Martin has multiple operations in the Gulf Coast region. … Raytheon Co. reported fourth quarter 2009 income from continuing operations of $517 million, up 21 percent compared to $428 million in the fourth quarter 2008. Raytheon has operations in the Gulf Coast region. … Teledyne Technologies reported fourth quarter 2009 sales of $454.4 million, compared with sales of $464.8 million for the same period of 2008. Teledyne Continental Motors of Mobile, Ala., is a subsidiary of California-based Teledyne Technologies. … United Technologies Corp. reported fourth quarter 2009 net income of $1.1 billion, down 6 percent over the year ago quarter. United Technologies has activities in the Gulf Coast region, in part through subsidiary Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. … General Dynamics reported 2009 fourth-quarter earnings from continuing operations of $618 million compared to 2008 fourth-quarter earnings from continuing operations of $630 million. General Dynamics has activities in the Gulf Coast region. … The Boeing Co. reported fourth-quarter net income of $1.3 billion as revenue rose 42 percent to $17.9 billion. Boeing has activities in the Gulf Coast region.

Kachemak Research Development, Logan, Utah, was awarded a $9.8 million contract which will provide for robotics research in support of AutoScan 31G for robotic perimeter security applications. 325 CONS/LGCB, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Missile Systems Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $23.7 million contract which will replace obsolete parts within the guidance section data processor module and modify the supporting missile hardware and software architecture as required to continue production of the existing missile systems. 695 ARSS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Dyncorp International, Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $6.7 million contract for continued contractor logistics support for 12 U.S. Navy UC-35C/D aircraft. Seventeen percent of the work will be done at Naval Air Station New Orleans, La. … CSC Applied Technologies of Fort Worth, Texas was awarded a $29.5 million contract which will provide for base operating support service at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. 81 CONS, Keesler Air Force Base, is the contracting activity.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Week in review (1/17 to 1/23)

Little doubt one of the more interesting aerospace news items for the Gulf Coast region during the week continued to be the Army's decision to end its involvement in the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. But just as interesting was the decision to slow down the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

The lesson from both: money's tight, and the Pentagon is looking for ways to save money.

The Army decided to disengage from Fire Scout in the belief that it can upgrade its Shadow UAVs with new sensors to get the job done. Fire Scout had been part of the now defunct Future Combat Systems family of unmanned vehicles, an ambitious, expensive project. But the realities of fighting two wars has forced the Pentagon to look at more immediate needs.

The Army's decision was not welcome news for the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss. It does the finishing work on Fire Scouts, and the cancelation of the Army Fire Scouts means the center will build 600 fewer Fire Scouts than originally planned.

That certainly puts the brakes on the growth of the Moss Point center, but it still has plenty of work. But the center is still building Fire Scouts for the Navy, and it also does fuselage work on Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk. And Northrop is continuing to pitch the Fire Scout to other potential customers.

Concerning the F-35, the Pentagon has decided to slow down the testing and acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter - but it remains firmly behind the program. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said during a briefing that the path had been too aggressive, and there’s an effort underway to lengthen the test period, increase test assets and make the production rate less ambitious.

The F-35 will be ready for initial operational capability with the Air Force in 2013, Schwartz said. For Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which is scheduled to be home to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter training center, that will likely mean a delay in when the first fighters will arrive.

First stage engine testing for the Taurus 2 rocket at Stennis Space Center, Miss., is expected in April or May. Orbital Sciences is still hoping for a March 2011 debut of the company’s medium-lift Taurus 2 rocket. Orbital is building the Taurus 2 to launch the company's Cygnus cargo freighter to the International Space Station. The Taurus 2 rocket first stage will use a pair of kerosene-fueled AJ26 main engines provided by Aerojet Corp. The first batch of AJ26 engines is slated to arrive at Stennis no earlier than March.

- NASA’s Shared Services Center at Stennis Space Center will manage a contract extension awarded to Lockheed Martin to continue the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative. The contract extension has a value of about $230 million and will continue through Oct. 31, 2011. Agency-wide services under the ODIN master contract and center delivery orders include desktop hardware and software, personal digital assistants, telephone operations, network services, information technology security and other services.

- The NASA Global Hawk unmanned aircraft completed 10.4 hours for pilot training and flight characterization in preparation for the Global Hawk Pacific Campaign set to start this spring. Five flights have been completed since the first flight of AV-6 on Oct. 23. Prior to this, the aircraft had not flown in more than 6 years. AV-6 is being modified to carry eleven earth science sensors in preparation for GloPac. Plans are still on track to use Global Hawks in August and September 2010 to track hurricanes for the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Process Experiment.

- NASA astronauts were at Stennis Space Center during the week to thank employees for their work. Five of the six members of the Space Shuttle Crew Atlantis flew to Stennis, where space shuttle engines are tested. The Atlantis returned to earth in late November. The crew's 13 day mission included a trip to the International Space Station to deliver supplies and bring one of the astronauts back home.

Mobile, Ala., Mayor Sam Jones wants President Barack Obama to reverse the Pentagon's plan and buy aerial tankers both Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team as a major job creation program. Jones, in a letter to Obama, said that would create nearly 100,000 jobs nationwide and help retire the existing fleet seven years earlier. He delivered the letter Thursday during a meeting at the White House with other city mayors. The Northrop/EADS team wants to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala.

- The Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, says changes to the request for proposals for the aerial tanker will “lessen the financial risk” for bidders. But he characterizes the changes as “modest.” Schwartz says the final RFP will be issued within a month of the fiscal 2011 budget release scheduled for Feb. 1. Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team are expected to bid for the work, though Northrop has threatened not to bid if the RFP is not changed.

- Boeing's representative in France during the week accused the European nation of shielding its defense market behind a wall of "extreme protectionism." Yves Galland said Paris had few lessons to give America on opening up to foreign suppliers. Boeing is in a battle with Europe’s EADS/Airbus to supply tankers to the U.S. Air Force. Airbus and U.S. partner Northrop Grumman have called the draft request for proposal tilted in Boeing’s favor.

Oceanographers from the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command at Stennis Space Center, Miss., are conducting hydrographic surveys of ports of interest around Haiti to determine navigational hazards for ships bringing aid to Haiti. Personnel from the command’s Naval Oceanographic Office have also conducted airborne lidar surveys of Port-au-Prince using the CHARTS system aboard a Beechcraft King Air 200 aircraft. Other NAVO personnel are aboard the naval survey ship USNS Henson.

- The Flying Jennies of the 403rd Wing at Keesler returned home from four months in Southeast Asia. The Reservists of the 403rd's 815th Airlift Squadron set a record by airdropping 801 bundles in 24 missions over a one-week period. They logged 2,500 hours in just three months. Flying the C-130J-30 model aircraft, the 815th airdropped nearly 5,000 tons of cargo, including ammunition, medical supplies, food and water – and “care packages” with comfort items. They also flew more than 20,000 passengers and 500 aeromedical evacuation passengers during the deployment.

Sikorsky Support Services Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a $7 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery requirements contract to provide aircraft maintenance and logistics support for the T-34C at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas and NAS Whiting Field, Fla.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Week in review (1/10 to 1/16)

European Aeronautic Defense and Space said during the week that the Air Force’s latest specifications for an aerial tanker will not yield significant technological improvements over the current tanker fleet.

Sean O’Keefe, head of EADS North America, said the current draft request for proposals is not a modernization program, but a replacement program. Meanwhile, the CEO of Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security Systems Division, said that company is well positioned to meet the demands of a fixed-price contract, even though the company doesn’t like it.

EADS and partner Northrop Grumman, which want to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala., have threatened to withdraw from the contest if the RFP is not changed from the current version, which they say favors the smaller plane being offered by Boeing.

- Speaking of EADS, two Alabama Army National Guard UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopters were unveiled during a ceremony last week. The guard is getting four of the helicopters from EADS North America. They’ll be based at the Army Aviation Support Facility #2 in Birmingham, Ala. EADS North America has delivered 93 Lakotas to the Army and five to the Navy. The UH-72As are built in Columbus, Miss., by the American Eurocopter business unit of EADS North America.

- Northrop Grumman got a bit of bad news during the week. The Army told Congress it’s terminating a robotic vehicle and unmanned aircraft program that were once part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems. The terminated unmanned ground vehicle is the Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment Countermine and Transport, and the UAV is the Fire Scout, which is built in part in Moss Point, Miss. But it hardly means the end of the program. The Navy is using Fire Scouts, and Northrop Grumman is also pitching the UAV to the Coast Guard.

Air Force officials are testing the waters to see if training with avatars in a virtual environment is effective. It would allow students who are assigned on temporary duty to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., to use computers at their home base for training. Keesler officials say if TDY students are able to complete the training from their home base, the savings to the military could be as high as $700,000 a year in housing, food, and transportation costs.

- The demand for training in explosive ordnance disposal is on the rise. The Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be at maximum capacity in fiscal 2010, with 1,786 students – up from 1,705 students in 2009 and 1,283 in 2008. The executive officer of the school said this year’s increase will be the last one until additional facilities are built.

Military missions
Military personnel from the Gulf Coast are heavily involved in providing help to Haiti. Two MC-130H Combat Talon IIs from the 15th Special Operations Squadron and multiple teams from the 720th Special Tactics Group at Hurlburt Field, Fla., deployed during the week to Haiti in support of humanitarian operations.

These teams brought an array of capabilities with them to the country devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake Jan. 12. In addition to opening up the airport at Port-au-Prince, combat controllers are trained to survey other areas to look for potential airdrop and landing zones so other cargo and personnel can be accepted into the country if required.

The Coast Guard assigned the new HU-144A Ocean Sentry aircraft based out of Mobile, Ala.'s, Coast Guard Aviation Training Center to help with relief efforts in Haiti. The Ocean Sentry is the new medium-range fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft. The Ocean Sentry is powered by two turboprop engines and has a crew of five or six.

Other military personnel helping to provide aid include Navy Seabees from Mississippi and medical personnel from Pensacola, Fla.

- The commander of Eglin Air Force Base told lawmakers in Tallahassee, Fla., during the week that oil and gas drilling in Florida waters could threaten military operations. Col. Bruce McClintock told the House Military Affairs and Local Policy Committee that when Eglin fires missiles at drones, the drones and the spent missiles “have to fall somewhere.” Drilling supports say the entire Gulf is not a military training area, and exclusion zones can be set up.

Next-gen air traffic system
A next-generation air traffic system is now in place covering the Gulf of Mexico. Houston air traffic controllers are now using Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, a GPS-based technology, to separate and monitor aircraft flying over the Gulf of Mexico. The milestone was announced during the week by the FAA administrator. Philadelphia will roll out its ADB-B system next month, and the system will be available nationwide by 2013.

Aviation park
Nearly a half-million dollars will be used to begin work on Whiting Aviation Park, a 269-acre facility near Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla. The Santa Rosa County Commission voted to seek bids for infrastructure work. The commission discussed having county road crews do the work for some $315,000, but decided to seek bids to see if a private contractor can do it for less. Commissioners also approved $175,000 for a consultant to develop a master plan. The park, which will have access to one of Whiting's runways, is intended to attract aviation-related businesses.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Week in review (1/3 to 1/9)

First it was Boeing. Now Northrop Grumman.

I’m talking about the decision of Northrop Grumman to move its corporate offices and 300 jobs from Los Angeles to the Washington D.C. region by 2011. The aerospace giant is looking at the District, Maryland and Virginia, and will pick a location sometime this year.

The decision has to be painful for the West Coast’s aerospace industry. It was a decade ago that Boeing moved its world headquarters from Seattle to Chicago. Northrop says the reason for the move is that it has a lot of customers in the Washington, D.C., region, and this will help Northrop better serve those customers.

It will place Northrop corporate offices at the political center of the United States. Northrop’s partners in the aerial tanker competition already has corporate offices in the Washington D.C. region. Airbus Americas is headquartered in Herndon, Va., and EADS North America is headquartered in Arlington, Va.

For the Gulf Coast region, it could mean more face-to-face contact with Northrop executives. Los Angeles is almost 1,700 miles away, while Washington D.C. is about 1,000. And the movers and shakers from this region go to the nation’s capital more than they go to Los Angeles.

- Speaking of Airbus, the company during the week said it will add 80 jobs to its 210-worker engineering facility in Wichita, Kan., a project that Wichita officials had said they were competing against Mobile, Ala., to land. Airbus has a 150-worker engineering facility at the Brookley Field Industrial Complex. Airbus said the company's new engineering work is related to wings, already the primary focus in Wichita. Engineers in Mobile work on cabin interiors, cargo systems and escape systems.

- While Boeing and Airbus lock horns over the Air Force tanker, the two aerospace giants are keeping their eyes one some new competition that’s developing. The latest may well come from Canada.

Aviation Week reports that a Wall Street analyst, J.P. Morgan’s Joseph B. Nadol, believes Bombardier is planning a 150-seat version of its new CSeries jet. While the aircraft builder has only unveiled the 110-seat CS100 and 130-seat CS300, Nadol believes a 150-seat model would have real potential. It would move Bombardier into a segment of the passenger aircraft market that’s been dominated by the A320 and 737.

There are already two challengers on the horizon. China’s Comac is developing the 150-seat C919 and Russia’s United Aircraft Corp. is developing the MC-21. Can Brazil’s Embraer be far behind? (Story)

- In another big-company development during the week, Boeing consolidated some divisions and renamed its St. Louis-based defense unit Boeing Defense, Space & Security. It had been called Boeing Integrated Defense Systems since 2002, when the company consolidated its military aircraft and space business. (Story)

Joint Strike Fighter
During the week, Bloomberg reported that Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered a delay in the Lockheed Martin F-35 program, cutting the Pentagon’s planned purchases by 10 aircraft in fiscal 2011 and a total of 122 through 2015. More than $2.8 billion that was budgeted earlier to buy the military’s next-generation fighter would instead be used to continue its development. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is scheduled to be home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center.

- Air Force officials published the notice of intent in the Federal Register to prepare an environmental impact statement to assess the impacts of establishing operational F-35 units at existing Air Force and Air National Guard installations. The candidate bases are Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho; Hill AFB, Utah; Burlington Air Guard Station, Vt.; Shaw AFB/McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C.; and Jacksonville AGS, Fla. Air Force officials expect to complete the environmental impact analysis process in about one year.

- The short takeoff/vertical landing version of the F-35 for the first time engaged its STOVL propulsion system in flight in tests at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The F-35 is powered by a Pratt & Whitney F135 engine driving a Rolls-Royce LiftFan. The F135 system development and demonstration program has completed 164 hours of flight time, including cross-country flights to and from Edwards and Eglin Air Force Bases and Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

- Pratt & Whitney has delivered its final conventional take off and landing/carrier variant F135 flight test engine to the F-35 Joint Program Office as the program transitions from development and demonstration to production. Pratt & Whitney has delivered 17 flight test engines and expects to deliver the final short take off and vertical landing flight test engine early this year.

In Mississippi, Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport topped its 2008 figures for departures and posted its third-highest count in the past eight years for incoming passengers. The airport finished 2009 with 12,365 boardings, a couple hundred departures more than 2008.

- In Florida, Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport is looking into how a college student from Korea ended up spending the night at the airport undetected. The Pensacola Christian College student was found asleep at a Delta airlines gate at 4:15 a.m. Sunday when an agent of the airline arrived to open the gate for business. The student told airport officials he spent the night sleeping in the concourse waiting for friends.

- At Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Northrop Grumman and the Army recently completed electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility testing on the first RC-12X Guardrail. The RC-12X is the Army's airborne SIGINT sensor and ground processing system. The EMI/EMC testing validates operation of the aircraft's electronic systems in a large, electromagnetically shielded chamber. EMI/EMC testing is required before an airworthiness certificate can be issued. Delivery to the Army is scheduled for summer 2010.

This year will bring several milestones in the construction of the A-3 stand at Mississippi's Stennis Space Center. The stand will be used to test the J-2X engine, a key propulsion system for NASA’s Constellation Program. This year workers will install the stand’s test cell and diffuser, which let operators simulate altitudes of up to 100,000 feet using a series of chemical steam generators to create a vacuum. The test cell and diffuser is being manufactured by American Tank and Vessel Inc. at its facility in Lucedale, Miss. The stand is slated to be finished in late 2011.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Week in review (12/27 to 1/2)

The uncertainty over where NASA is heading remains as the new year begins. And that’s got to be uncomfortable for those who work at the Gulf Coast’s NASA facilities at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

But the uncertainty shouldn’t last much longer. The Obama administration is expected to reveal within the next few weeks where NASA will be heading. The president, who has expressed admiration for the space program, has been getting input from a lot of advisors. He also has the results of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Committee.

In October that panel said NASA's current funding puts it on an “unsustainable trajectory” to undertake ambitious missions of returning to the moon and beyond – the Constellation Program. It urged Obama to increase the agency’s budget by $3 billion a year, above the nearly $19 billion per year it receives now. The report also raised issues about the current lineup of space vehicles being developed by NASA and industry partners. (Story)

Both Michoud, which is involved in assembling the new generation of space vehicles, and Stennis, which is where the propulsion systems will be tested, are moving forward on Constellation despite the uncertainty. But then again, until told otherwise, what can they do?

But the space program isn't the only uncertainty. In 2010 we'll learn whether Boeing or the Northrop Grumman/EADS team will win the contract to produce aerial tankers for the Air Force. If Boeing wins, the planes will be built in Washington state, and if Northrop/EADS wins, they'll be assembled in Mobile, Ala.

I'm going to go out on a limb and again predict that the Pentagon will end up splitting the contract. The whole process has become so political it may be the only escape. And if that happens, we'll still have to see if the production rate is large enough for EADS to go ahead and commit to a facility in Mobile.

Stay tuned, folks.

Joint Strike Fighter
The 2010 mayor’s race in Valparaiso, Fla., may shape up as a referendum on the city’s face-off with the Air Force over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The March 9 ballot so far pits current Mayor Bruce Arnold against challenger Brent Smith. Arnold was a driving force behind the city’s lawsuit against the Air Force, while Smith opposed the litigation from the start.

The Air Force is building the F-35 joint training center at Eglin, but some residents have been concerned over the noise the new plane will bring. Despite the ongoing concerns, more than $84 million for F-35 structures and a 96-room dormitory at Eglin is included in the $13.5 billion fiscal 2010 military construction budget.

- In another F-35 story during the past week, Lockheed Martin said the second F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing arrived early in the week at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The aircraft flew nonstop from Fort Worth, Texas, and completed an aerial refueling en route. Over the next year a team will ramp up the plane for flight testing.

- Also during the week, Kyodo News reported that Japan may become a partner in the F-35 development program – even without a firm commitment to buying the aircraft.

Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi may see an 8 to 10 percent passenger growth in 2010. That’s according to Bruce Frallic, the long-time airport’s director. He says the last two years have been tough on the industry, but he sees things turning around. The airport has spent millions in improvements, and will be spending millions more in 2010. The airport will be getting back AirTran Jan. 8 after a year’s absence.

- In Pensacola, Fla., Melinda Crawford was appointed during the week as the new director of Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport. Crawford has been the interim director since May 15, when former director Frank Miller left the position for a job in San Antonio, Texas.

- Speaking of airports, the attempted attack of an airliner by a man wearing explosives under his clothing may mean more business for Rapiscan Systems of Torrance, Calif., and its 10,000 square-foot production facility in Ocean Springs, Miss. The plant, which builds scanners, recently hired 25 additional workers.

New market
Teledyne Continental Motors of Mobile, Ala., is making a push into diesel-powered engines to enter new markets worldwide – including small unmanned aerial vehicles. Teledyne Continental is hiring engineers and has bought diesel-related technology, licenses and hardware from an outside source. Teledyne plans to announce details this month. Teledyne Continental is a unit of Teledyne Technologies of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and has about 450 workers in Mobile.

Vertex Aerospace, LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded an $11.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract to provide specialized technical services in support of depot level maintenance work performed at the Fleet Readiness Center, Southwest on aircraft and rework of associated components and materials. … General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products, Burlington, Vt., was awarded a $33.6 million contract for 144 Bradley reactive armor tile sets for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle systems. Most of the work will be done in Haifa, Israel; Burlington and Lyndonville, Vt., but McHenry, Miss., will do 1.7 percent of the work. … Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $12.4 million contract, with a task order from an existing requirements contract, to purchase 43 range safety systems necessary for decoy operational testings and miniature air launched decoy and jammer initial operational test and evaluation. 692 ARSS/PK Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, is being awarded a $98 million modification to the previously awarded cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for special tooling and special test equipment required for the manufacture of Joint Strike Fighter Air System low rate initial production aircraft. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will become home to the JSF training center.