Saturday, April 24, 2010

Week in review (4/18 to 4/24)

A sliver of hope has returned to Mobile, Ala., that it may yet get to build tankers for the U.S. Air Force. EADS North America announced during the week that it intends to submit a proposal by July 9 to offer the KC-45 to replace the Air Force's fleet of old tankers.

The contract is a big one - $35 billion to $40 billion.

EADS is still in discussions with potential partners to replace Northrop Grumman, which last month decided to quit the contest on grounds the request for proposals heavily favors the smaller 767 being offered by Boeing.

EADS agreed with Northrop Grumman at the time, but there was a change of heart following talks in Washington and the Pentagon's willingness to extend the deadline for submitting bids. In announcing plans to again enter the competition, EADS restated plans it announced much earlier to also assemble A330 commercial freighters at the site in Mobile if it wins the tanker contract.

Speaking of Boeing, the company's unmanned orbital vehicle, X-37B, was successfully launched from Florida during the week aboard an Atlas V rocket into low-earth orbit. The Orbital Test Vehicle looks much like the space shuttle, and its mission is classified.

The X-37B, designed to return from space and land on its own, is being used to demonstrate a reliable, reusable unmanned space test platform for the Air Force. How the Air Force intends to use it in the future is unclear.

- NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., during the week marked the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 flight with exhibits and remembrances from Biloxi native Fred Haise Jr., who served as lunar module pilot on the mission.

Apollo 13 launched April 11, 1970 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Two days into the flight, the command module spacecraft was crippled by an oxygen tank explosion, forcing a free-trajectory return to Earth. The astronauts were forced to power down the command module and use the lunar module as a space "lifeboat."

During the week, the Air Force version of the F-35A flew for an hour from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas. It's the seventh F-35 Lightning II to fly.

AF-2, the conventional takeoff and landing aircraft, is the Air Force's version of the Joint Strike Fighter. This fifth-generation fighter was the first one to carry an internal GAU-22/A 25-millimeter Gatling gun weapon system.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is scheduled to become home to the Joint Strike Fighter training center.

- Okaloosa County rejected paying Valparaiso's legal fees in a lawsuit over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Valparaiso sought to be reimbursed $61,000. The county sued Valparaiso in April 2009 to halt the city's lawsuit against the Air Force over the possibility of the F-35s coming to Eglin Air Force Base. The lawsuit was settled in February.

- The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, based at Hurlburt Field, Fla., wants to improve the self-protection system on the CV-22 Osprey to bolster its defenses against surface-to-air missiles, according to Aviation Week and Space Technology.(Story)

The Pentagon wants to boost the amount of chaff and flare available to crew beyond what is now available with the ALE-47 dispenser. The goal is to allow CV-22 crew to dispense flares pre-emptively as they enter a threat zone.

The system should be able to handle special covert flares designed to spoof surface-to-air missiles but not be visible to the human eye to avoid revealing the tiltrotor’s presence. The initiative is only the latest in a string of actions the Pentagon has taken in the past few years to improve rotorcraft countermeasures.

Meanwhile, an investigation continues into the loss of a CV-22, attached to Hurlburt's 8th Special Operations Squadron. The CV-22 went down earlier this month west of Qalat City, in Zabul Province in southern Afghanistan. Three military personnel died in the accident, as well as one civilian. The plane was inbound to a landing zone at the time. There were no indications of hostile fire.

A building at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has been renamed to honor one of the Doolittle Raiders. Building 68 was named the Horton J-Primes Test Facility in honor of retired Master Sgt. Ed Horton, who passed away in 2008. Horton was a gunner on one of the B-25s that launched from a carrier to bomb Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Horton was among the group that trained at Eglin for the risky mission.

- A Boeing 787 is at Eglin Air Force Base to undergo extreme weather testing at the Air Force’s McKinley Climatic Laboratory. According to Boeing, the 787 flight-test fleet logged its 500th hour of flying April 16. The 787 at Eglin is designated ZA003.

The McKinley Climatic Lab is part of the 46th Test Wing. In addition to Air Force testing, it can be used by other government agencies and private industry. It can create any climatic environment in the world.

- United Airlines will start a daily nonstop flight from Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport to Chicago beginning Nov. 4. The new daily service was the result of United successful weekend service to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport that began in February.

United recently entered the Pensacola market in February with two daily departures to Washington Dulles International Airport. Service for the United Express flight will be operated by Express Jet on a 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145 jet.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Week in review (4/4 to 4/17)

Perhaps you're wondering why the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor news feed hasn't had anything since late March on the Air Force tanker project. At that time, there was a brief saying the Pentagon would grant an extension of 60 days if EADS does, in fact, decides to bid.

We're tracking developments, of course, but nothing of significance has happened. EADS is talking to potential partners - and it still is interested in assembling the tankers in Mobile, Ala. But so far Europ's EADS hasn't found a U.S. partner. And that's crucial for EADS to bid.

Northrop Grumman's decision to pull out of the contest pretty much left EADS with few options. Northrop, you'll recall, felt the requirements tilted in favor of the smaller Boeing plane. And there's little if any reason to think the requirements will change.

I anticipate the next time you'll read something on our news feed about the tanker project is when EADS either finds a partner or announces a decision on whether it will or will not bid. So stay tuned.

Unmanned systems
The Fire Scout unmanned helicopter returned to Mayport, Fla., during the past week from its first operational deployment. The UAV was aboard USS McInerney during its recent six-month deployment to the U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility. Among other things, the Fire Scout, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., was used in a drug bust.

Makes me think about the Iraqi soldiers who surrendered to a drone during the Gulf War.

Now about the drug bust: The Fire Scout was on a routine flight in the Eastern Pacific Ocean when it saw a suspected narcotics "go-fast" on radar. Over three hours, Fire Scout monitored the go-fast, feeding real-time video back to McInerney. Fire Scout saw it meeting with a fishing vessel, and that's when the McInerney's Coast Guard detachment seized about 60 kilos of cocaine.

- A couple of weeks ago a BQM-167 drone out of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., was recovered by a fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico. The drone had been lost March 10 due to an engine flame-out during a routine training exercise. The drone, found in the Tampa area, belongs to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, a tenant unit at Tyndall.

Joint Strike Fighter
The city of Valparaiso, Fla., has asked Okaloosa County to pay its legal fees related to recent litigation over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The county sued Valparaiso last April to halt the city's lawsuit against the Air Force over the possibility of the aircraft coming to Eglin Air Force Base. The county claimed Valparaiso officials violated the state’s Government in the Sunshine law when they voted to sue the Air Force. The lawsuit was settled last month. The legal fees come to $61,000.

- Despite recent problems with the F-35 cost and development schedule, establishment of a training pipeline for pilots and maintainers for the JSF remains on track. Navy Capt. Mike Saunders, deputy commander of the 33rd Operations Group at Eglin, told Navy Times the plan is to be ready with the first jet arrives. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps plan to begin flying the F-35 within the next two years. The first simulators arrived in late March. The Marine Corps' training squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, stood up earlier this month. The Air Force created the 58th Fighter Squadron last year and the Navy's Strike Fighter Squadron 101 will stand up next year.

Airports and bases
Four people aboard a Navy T-39N Sabreliner that crashed in a wooded area north of Atlanta Monday were identified as retired Lt. Cmdr. Charles McDaniel, 67, of Cantonment, Fla., Marine Capt. Jason Paynter, 38, of Pensacola, Fla., Marine 1st Lt. Shawn Nice, 26, of Levittown, Pa., and Navy Ensign Zachary Eckhart, 25, of Orefield, Pa. Assigned to Training Squadron 86 at Naval Air Station Pensacola, they were on a routine training mission. The cause of the crash is being investigated.

- Officials from the airports in Gulfport, Miss., and Panama signed a cooperation agreement to promote cargo trade in both countries. Bruce Frallic, director of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, said several initiatives already are being implemented. Rafael Flores, general manager of the Tocumen International Airport in Panama, said his country is a transfer point of goods and the Gulfport also can become a hub for this trade.

- The number of passengers going through the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport dropped a bit in February. The airport reported 618,201 passengers boarded and left flights in February, down from 620,814 in February 2009. For the first two months of the year, traffic is down 1.5 percent over the first two months of 2009.

- Brig. Gen. Ian R. Dickinson, commander of the 81st Training Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., will be the new communications director and chief information officer for the Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Dickinson will replace Brig. Gen. David B. Warner, who retires July 1.

- The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds headlined the 75th Anniversary Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Air Show April 10-11. In addition to the air performances there were a wide range of static displays.

Rick Gilbrech is now deputy director of John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss. The appointment was effective immediately. Gilbrech had been director of SSC when he became associate administrator for the exploration systems mission directorate. He retired, then returned to NASA and was named associate director at SSC before his recent promotion.

- A signing ceremony for the contract to build a 72,000 square foot state-of-the-art science center near NASA's Stennis Space Center was held recently in Gulfport, Miss. Roy Anderson Corp. will start construction May 1. The center to be located along Interstate 10 near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line is expected to be a big tourist draw. Infinity is designed to highlight the activities at Stennis Space Center and inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers in the fields of earth, ocean and space science.

Over the past couple of weeks there were a number of contracts awarded that are of interest to the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corricor. NASA's Stennis Space Center in south Mississippi awarded a contract to M&D Mechanical Contractors, Inc. of Decatur, Ala., to provide general construction services at the center. The contract value is not to exceed $25 million. … Northrop Grumman System Corp., San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $10 million contract which will provide for additional long-lead funding of two Global Hawk Block 30M systems and two Global Hawk Block 40 systems. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. … Star Aviation of Mobile, Ala., won a contract to help install wireless Internet systems on 105 planes owned by Alaska Airlines. The work is supposed to be completed by the end of the year. … McDonnell Douglas Corp., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $10.3 million contract which provided for the purchase of 89 carriage load crew trainers and 356 weapons load crew trainers to support F-16 Block 40/50, F-35, and F-22 integrations and training requirements. 681 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Gulf Power Co., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a $5.6 million contract for the construction of Freedom Way substation and transmission line extension, Hurlburt Field, Fla. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District, Mobile, Ala., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Week in review (3/28 to 4/3)

Countries worldwide are lining up to buy one of the most coveted pieces of military technology in the world, the Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawk. That's the gist of an AP story during the week.

The popularity of the unmanned aircraft is good news for South Mississippi. Some of the fuselage work for the Global Hawk fuselage is done in Moss Point, Miss., at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center.

Northrop Grumman just wrapped up an Asian tour, and in addition to Japan, other nations considering adding the surveillance aircraft to their arsenals are South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Britain, Spain, New Zealand and Canada. Germany already has a contract for a variant called the EuroHawk, which will be delivered this year.

The Global Hawk also has civilian applications. They've been used to respond to natural disasters, most recently to support relief efforts in Haiti. And NASA, which has two Global Hawks of its own, plans are to use them during the upcoming hurricane season.

Gemma Loochkartt, a spokeswoman for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in San Diego, Calif., told AP that the Global Hawk fleet is now 21 planes finished or under construction. But she says that's likely to grow substantially.

Europe's EADS during the week got a deadline extension, but not as much as it wanted.

The Pentagon said it will extend the deadline by 60 days if EADS officially decides to submit a bid to build Air Force tankers. EADS had said it needed a minimum of 90 days. Folks in Alabama were encouraged somewhat. It means Mobile, Ala., still has a shot - slim though it may be - of getting an EADS assembly plant.

Nobody else seemed entirely happy with the extension. EADS, which may still have to find a U.S. partner even though it can compete as the prime contractor, didn't get the extension it wanted. Boeing and its supporters were, predictably, angered over any extension of the deadline.

EADS had partnered with Northrop Grumman for the $35 billion contract to replace the current fleet of tankers. The team won in February 2008, but that was overturned following a Boeing protest. The request for proposals was redone, and Northrop Grumman dropped out in March on grounds that the new requirements favor Boeing's smaller aircraft.

During the week, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the government would extend the deadline from May 10 to July 9 if EADS expressed an interest in bidding. EADS spokesman Guy Hicks said the company made it clear it needed 90 days as a minimum, but it's looking closely at the 60-day extension.

In a ceremony at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 451 was reactivated after a 13-year absence. The unit is being redesignated Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 and will train Marines to pilot F-35 fighters. It will train at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which will be used by all the services for initial training in the F-35. The Marines will use the short-takeoff, vertical landing variant of the Lockheed Martin-built plane.

Two airports in South Mississippi won federal grants for improvements. Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point will receive $809,753 for runway and taxiway lighting work. Stennis International Airport in Bay St. Louis will get $104,500 for airport apron construction and wildlife hazard assessment. The Department of Transportation grants are part of $8.6 million in funding through the Airport Improvement Program.

- Two airports in the region are launching new air service. In Mississippi, Branson Air Express will begin service between Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and Branson, Mo., starting May 17. It will use 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145 regional planes operated under charter by ExpressJet Airlines Inc. In Florida, American Airline's regional affiliate American Eagle will offer twice-daily non-stop flights from Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport to Miami International Airport. The service begins Tuesday.

Raytheon Co. has delivered an operationally significant quantity of the Miniature Air Launched Decoy to the Air Force, allowing the service to reach its "required assets available" as scheduled. The 300-pound MALD decoy is modular, air-launched and programmable with a range of 575 miles. Currently integrated on the B-52 bomber and F-16 fighter aircraft, MALD can be certified on any aircraft with a 14-inch suspension carriage. Raytheon is also developing a jamming variant of the MALD and expects to deliver its first system in 2012.

Several contracts awarded during the week have Gulf Coast connections. Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $13.5 million contract which provides support for four months of AMRAAM system engineering and program management due to delay of Lot 24. 695ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Bell-Boeing Joint Project Office, Amarillo, Texas, was awarded a $55.1 million modification to a previously awarded contract for non-recurring efforts associated with Increment III of the CV-22 aircraft Block 20 upgrade program. Four percent of the work will be done in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. … Computer Sciences Corp., Falls Church, Va., was awarded a $31.5 million contract for information technology support services to sustain the Naval Education Technology and Professional Development Training Command, Pensacola, Fla. Fifty-seven percent of the work will be done in Pensacola. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace, LLC, Madison, Miss., received a modification of $6.3 million to provide an additional six months of lease services of four helicopters for pilot training in support of Air Force Special Operations Command. Work will be performed at Hurlburt Field, Fla.