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.

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