Saturday, March 27, 2010

Week in review (3/21 to 3/27)

Although the Army decided to eliminate the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter from its modernization program, Northrop Grumman continues to fly and test the UAV for the service. And, according to an article in Aviation Week and Space Technology, it’s showing capabilities the Army had not previously considered.

The Army owns eight Fire Scouts now stored at the Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., which is also building Fire Scouts for the Navy and performing some of the work on Global Hawks. For the Army, which said the lower-cost Shadow with improvements could meet Army needs, the issue boils down to cost.

The decision to drop Fire Scout came just before the month-long demonstration at the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment at Fort Benning, Ga. Northrop Grumman used the demonstration to show the suitability of the Fire Scout for the Army. It delivered cargo, deployed an unmanned ground vehicle and served as a surveillance and communications tool.

Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, said there are operational requirements emerging that the Army hadn't previously considered for UAVs, notably cargo. It's keeping close tabs on the Marines, who are evaluating that capability.

According to the article, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey promised Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., he would investigate the options and have an answer by the end of April. (Story)

The Russians won’t be bidding - no real surprise there - but Europe's EADS may be leaning towards bidding on the Air Force tanker contract after all. At least that's what a Reuters analysis said by week's end.

EADS now has prime contractor status, and it hopes to get a 90-day extension on the May 10 bid deadline. EADS and its former teammate, Northrop Grumman, won the $35 billion contest in February 2008, but it was overturned on a Boeing protest. Northrop earlier this month dropped out of the battle on grounds the new request for proposals favors the smaller Boeing tanker. EADS, should it bid and win, would assemble the tankers in Mobile, Ala.

- Meanwhile, the World Trade Organization said during the week that Airbus received improper subsidies for the A380 jet and several other airplanes. The ruling affirmed interim findings last September on the U.S. complaint. The WTO found loans from European governments to develop the A380 were at below market rates and amounted to prohibited subsidies.

An A-10 using a 50-50 mixture of biofuel and conventional JP-8 aviation fuel was tested during the week at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. It was the first time the mixture was tested in both engines. The fuel is derived in part from camelina, a common plant that's been used for lamp fuel and ointments. The military is testing new fuels to diversify its fuel sources.

- In another test at Eglin earlier in the month, Lockheed Martin's Paveway II Plus Laser Guided Bomb completed a series of six flight tests. The bomb uses an enhanced laser guidance package, improving precision when compared to existing Paveway II LGBs. The weapons were launched from altitudes between 10,000 and 30,000 feet against a billboard target angled at 45 degrees. Each successfully initiated laser acquisition at the expected time and guided to the intended target.

- While we’re on the topic of Eglin, an updated study of the impact of the Joint Strike Fighter training school at Eglin shows 59 planes will have an impact of $613 million, down from the $2.15 billion that would have occurred between 2010 and 2016 with all 107 planes originally planned. Though the other 48 planes may still come to Eglin, the Air Force is looking at other bases as well.

A bill was filed in the Senate during the week to prohibit NASA from suspending work on the Constellation Program without justification. The legislation reaffirms language in the FY2010 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that directs NASA to continue moving forward with Constellation and prohibits termination or modification of existing contracts unless separate legislation is passed by Congress. Constellation, the program to take astronauts to the moon and beyond, was canceled in the proposed Obama budget.

The measure was introduced by Sen. George LeMieux of Florida and cosponsored by Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, and Utah's Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, are both involved in the Constellation program.

- Contracts were awarded Thursday to two firms to oversee construction of the Infinity Science Center, south of Stennis Space Center. Roy Anderson Corp. of Gulfport, Miss., submitted the low bid of $15.6 million to construct the building and Eley Guild Hardy of Biloxi was named executive architect. Work will begin May 3. The science center will provide a fun way for visitors to learn about the Earth, oceans and space.

- Also during the week, Stennis Space Center awarded a $26 million contract to A2 Research, JV, of Huntsville, Ala., to provide technical laboratory services at the center. The firm, fixed-priced contract includes a one-year base contract period, plus a one-year option and one three-year option period.

- Four members of the STS-130 Endeavor space shuttle crew thanked employees at Stennis Space Center during the week for their role in a successful mission to the International Space Station. The STS-130 crew delivered a third connecting nodule to the space station, which will increase the interior space for crew members and many life support and environmental control systems. Four more shuttle missions are scheduled.

Continental Airlines plans to lay off 150 ground workers at seven U.S. airports, including Pensacola, Fla., and hire contractors to do the work. The other layoffs to occur June 1 are in Providence, R.I., Greensboro, N.C., Richmond and Norfolk, Va., St. Louis and Kansas City. The company said the seven airports were the only all-regional service airports where Continental still uses its own employees for ground handling work.

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