Saturday, May 22, 2010

Week in review (5/16 to 5/22)

The Gulf Coast now has the nation's newest commercial airport. A 4,000-acre airport in Panama City, Fla., opened over the weekend. But that's just one of the more high-profile aerospace-related events during the past week. In other activities, a contract was awarded to build simulated carrier decks at Florida's Eglin Air Force Base and Duke Field, two airlines added services in the region and military student pilots began training in a brand new aircraft.

Here's the week in review:

New airport, new routes
The nation's newest commercial airport, the 4,000-acre Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, held a grand opening Saturday and was scheduled to begin operations Sunday. The airport is on land donated by St. Joe Co., the largest landowner in northwest Florida. It replaces the Panama City-Bay County International Airport.

The airport, which initially will use a 10,000-foot runway while work continues on others, is served by Southwest and Delta. Southwest was lured to Panama City over Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola, thanks to the guarantee from St. Joe that it would make sure the airline does not lose any money on the venture.

- On the opposite end of the corridor, another low-cost carrier, AirTran, will launch a new nonstop flight between New Orleans and Milwaukee Oct. 7. The additional flight increases to three the number of cities the airline flies to from New Orleans.

- During the week, the first flight of Branson AirExpress landed at Mississippi’s Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. Nonstop flights on 50-seat jets are Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

Ares I moves forward
Although President Barack Obama wants to kill the Constellation Program and its Ares I rocket, NASA managers in charge of the rocket have put together an ambitious testing program to speed its development.

That schedule includes a flight in November 2014 with astronauts aboard. That would be earlier than NASA's current schedule, which calls for the first manned flight in March 2015, and much faster than the 2017 date predicted by a blue-ribbon panel that reviewed NASA's human spaceflight program last year.

For Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, it's got to be tough not knowing what the future holds for the space agency. Michoud was chosen as the location to build portions of the Constellation vehicles, while 40 miles away Stennis built a new test stand specifically for the Constellation program. Stennis knows that no matter what, it will still be the primary NASA facility for testing rocket engines. But things are a bit less certain for Michoud. Stay tuned.

New training aircraft
The transition to new aircraft will be slow, but it’s now underway. During the week at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, north of Milton, Fla., military flight students took to the sky for the first time at the controls of a new training aircraft.

Over the next three years the T-6B Texan II will be replacing the T-34 Turbo Mentor. And it's a big change for the students. It puts them in an aircraft that's a lot more like the aircraft now used by the military. The T-6B Texan is a single-engine, two-seat trainer with flight instruments on a digital display rather than gauges.

Meanwhile, two Air Force captains landed at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Friday, delivering the last of 22 T-6A Texan aircraft that will be used by Air Force students at NAS Pensacola. The Air Force trainers are blue and white and the Navy trainers are orange and white.

Speaking of the Navy, changes are in the works to adjust the aviation pipeline. The Navy wants to decrease the waiting time for aviation training by trimming back the number of candidates in the pipeline. Right now the waiting time between commissioning and entering the Aviation Preflight Indoctrination in Pensacola, Fla., is up to six months from three. The Navy plans to offer qualified candidate officers options other than aviation training.

Tanker milestone
Two A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft being certified in Australia recently completed tanker-to-tanker refueling missions. The tanker has previously successfully refueled F-16 and F/A-18 fighters and E-3 AWACS.

The MRTT is the same design as the KC-45 that EADS North America plans to offer in the contest to build U.S. tankers. If EADS wins, the planes will be assembled in Mobile, Ala. Boeing, the other company that plans to compete for the tanker project, will build its planes in Washington. Most experts believe Boeing will win the contest.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded two contracts related to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. One was an $85.5 million modification to a previously awarded contract in support of the JSF low-rate initial production Lot II. The second was a $58 million modification to the previously awarded contract for technical services required to meet production ramp rates in support of the JSF low-rate initial production Lot III aircraft. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be home to the JSF training center. … R.C. Construction Co. Inc., Greenwood, Miss., was awarded a $23.1 million contract for the construction of short take off vertical landing simulated carrier practice landing decks at Eglin Air Force Base and nearby Duke Field, Fla. The U.S. Corps of Engineers Mobile Regional Contracting Center Mobile, Ala., is the contracting activity. … Tybrin Corp., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Services, Gaithersburg, Md., and L-3 Services Inc., Chantilly, Va., were each awarded contracts for services in support of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division's Combat Environment Simulation Division. Tybrin's ceiling is $241,540,417. … Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $30 million contract for advance procurement long-lead associated with two Block 30 and two Block 40 Global Hawks and associated items to protect the production schedule for Lot 10. Also, Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Air Combat Systems, San Diego, was awarded a $303.3 million contract which will provide production of two Global Hawk Block 30 air vehicles, two Global Hawk Block 40 air vehicles, and related program sustaining support efforts. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. … 2020 Company LLC, Falls Church, Va., Colsa Corp., Huntsville, Ala., and Oasis Systems Inc., Lexington, Mass., were awarded a $28.5 million contract which will provide a wide range of diverse, non-engineering, technical and acquisition management support required in the acquisition, development, production and support of various equipment and weapons systems within the Air Armament Center and other organizations at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. AAC/PKES, Eglin, is the contracting activity.

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