It looks like the stars are lining up against Northrop Grumman, EADS and Mobile, Ala., in the $40 billion aerial tanker project. The latest bit of bad news was the death of Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who was among the first to advocate buying planes from both Boeing and the Northrop/EADS team.
Murtha, who had been suffering from complications from gallbladder surgery, died Monday at age 77. The chairman of the powerful House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee will be replaced by Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who has been called the congressman from Boeing.
Analysts are saying Dicks will have to take a more statesman-like approach as chairman of the subcommittee, but that's probably little consolation to the Northrop/EADS team, which wanted to assemble tankers at Mobile's Brookley complex. Northrop has already said the draft request for proposals favors the smaller Boeing plane, and has threatened to stay out of the bidding if it's not changed. But the Pentagon is showing no inclination to change the final RFP expected to be released no earlier than Feb. 23. Dicks' elevation to the chairmanship is likely to give Northrop/EADS another reason to pass on bidding for the project.
In Paris earlier in the week, French Defense Minister Hervé Morin said he told U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he hoped EADS and Northrop Grumman would get a fair chance to compete for the refueling tanker. He said he reminded Gates "that when one is a country that stands up for the market economy, it can't be a one-way street." Oddly enough, less than a month ago Boeing's representative in France accused the French of shielding their own defense market behind a wall of "extreme protectionism." Yves Galland in January said Paris had few lessons to give America on opening up to foreign suppliers.
Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., doesn't appear to be giving up on drawing attention to the tanker project. The senator put a blanket hold on President Obama's nominees, then later lifted most of them. Shelby issued the holds over concerns about the tanker process as well as the loss of funding for counterterrorism center that would benefit Huntsville, Ala. Though he lifted most of the holds, he still has holds on nominees directly related to the tanker project.
- Although Boeing and Northrop Grumman are locked in battle over the tanker project, that doesn't mean they can't work together on other projects. They can and do, on a regular basis. The most recent example came during the week with the successful test of an airborne laser system. In the test over the Pacific, a Boeing 747 equipped with a huge Northrop Grumman laser gun shot down a missile. It was a major milestone in the development of the nation's missile defense system, and could wind up freeing up more money for the project.
At Stennis Space Center, Miss., Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne completed the initial step in certifying the RS-68A rocket engine by successfully hot-fire testing the first certification engine.
The RS-68A is an upgrade of the RS-68, a liquid-hydrogen/liquid-oxygen booster engine that will provide increased thrust and improved fuel efficiency for the Delta IV family of launch vehicles.
During the hot-fire test at Stennis, the first RS-68A certification engine successfully burned for 190 seconds, with operating time split between 102 percent and 55 percent power levels. Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne will hot-fire test the first RS-68A certification engine a minimum of 12 times through February and follow that with a similar series of hot-fire tests on its second certification engine in March and April.
- NASA presented its highest honor for quality and performance, the George M. Low Award, to two companies during NASA's seventh annual Project Management Challenge in Galveston, Texas. The winners were United Space Alliance of Houston and Applied Geo Technologies of Choctaw, Miss. Tribally owned AGT provides scientific, laboratory and geographic analysis services, maintains measurement standards and calibrates and repairs instrumentation at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. AGT received the award in the small business service category.
Pilots from the Netherlands trained during the week at Stennis International Airport in Hancock County, Miss. They were training to become part of the Dutch F-16 flight demonstration team. They chose Hancock County in part because of the less-crowded air space.
- The first international airline to offer direct service to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is reducing service to the city next month. AeroMexico has offered nonstop flights to Mexico City that continued on to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, from New Orleans since July. The flights operated six times a week. According to AeroMexico's Web site, flights will be available in March only on Mondays and Fridays.
Work is continuing at Florida's Eglin Air Force Base on the 2010 Open House and Air Show. The event, scheduled for April 10 and 11, is the first since 2007. This year's theme is "75 Years of Eglin Pride." The Air Force Thunderbirds, a precision flying team, and the Army's Black Daggers, a parachute demonstration team, are already confirmed performers for both days.
A Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft has flown six missions and provided more than 3,600 images of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and other areas damaged by the Jan. 12 earthquake and aftershocks. The day after the quake, an Air Force Block 10 Global Hawk was diverted by the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., from its trip to support operations in Afghanistan. It’s been operating out of Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.