Saturday, July 31, 2010

Week in review (7/25 to 7/31)

The Air Force made final during the week what a lot of people were expecting.

The 59 F-35 jets that will be going to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., for the joint strike fighter training center won't be going up to 107 after all. The announcement was made Thursday that the number will stay put.

The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission established the F-35 Initial Joint Training Center at Eglin, with the expectation of 107 planes. The number was set at 59 last year, but expectation were that Eglin could get 48 more.

The smart money was that the base probably wouldn't get the additional jets because of concerns that were voiced by some people that the planes are too noisy. But nothing was said about the noise issue in the announcement.

At a session with the press, Maj. Gen. C.R. Davis, commander of Eglin's Air Armament Center, said the additional aircraft would have interfered with other air missions at the base.

A day after that announcement, the Air Force said it chose Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., to get F-35s to use for training. It also announced that Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and Burlington Air Guard Station, Vt., will get operations F-35s.

Bases that had been in the running for the training jets, in addition to Eglin, were Boise AGS, Idaho, Hollman Air Force Base, N.M, and Tucson Air Guard Station, Ariz. Other bases seeking the operations aircraft were Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Shaw Air Force Base/McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., and Jacksonville Air Guard Station, Fla.

Even with that announcement, Northwest Florida is still winding up with more fighters.

Tyndall Air Force Base, in Panama City, Fla., will be getting an additional squadron of F-22 Raptors being relocated from Hollman Air Force Base, N.M. Another squadron of F-22s from Hollman is being distributed among three other bases.

The announcement was made by the Air Force Thursday as part of a consolidation plan for the F-22 fleet. Tyndall is getting 21 aircraft, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, will get six, Langley Air Force Base, Va., will get six, and Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., will get two of the F-22s.

In another base-related matter, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Brig. Gen. Andrew Mueller on Monday will assume command of the 81st Training Wing from Brig. Gen. Ian Dickinson. It will be at the parade field. Mueller comes to Keesler from Eskisehir, Turkey, where he served as the deputy commander for NATO's Combined Air Operations Center 6, Allied Air Forces Southern Europe. Dickinson will be Director, Communications and Information, and Chief Information Officer, Headquarters Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colo.

Anderson Drace, JV, Gulfport, Miss., was awarded a $14.3 million firm-fixed-price contract which provides for the design and construction of a bachelor enlisted quarters for the Corry "A" School students training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The work to be performed provides 80 2-plus-2 modules for 320 Corry "A" School students training at the Center for Information Dominance. Work will be performed in Pensacola and is expected to be completed by August 2012.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Week in review (7/18 to 7/24)

The Farnborough International Airshow in the U.K. ends Sunday, and reports show the value of orders will fall short of the record set in the previous Farnborough in 2008. But the value of orders will be ahead of last year's Paris air show.

According to Bloomberg, Airbus and Boeing won 237 jetliner orders worth $28 billion, more than three times the number announced in Paris a year ago. Airbus won 130 contracts with a list price of $13 billion, compared to Boeing's 103 orders worth $10 billion. But pledges kick up the dollar figure. Airbus received $15 billion of pledges compared to $4 billion at Boeing.

Event organizers said the 2010 show had 1,450 exhibiting companies compared to 1,393 in 2008. There were 70 delegations from 44 countries in attendance. The number of visitors during trade days and this weekend is expected to be on a par with 2008 – some 285,000.

- The Seattle Times had a story during the week pointing out that Washington state's trade booth at Farnborough was "small and decidedly unimpressive," and Alabama's nearby exhibit had better graphics, but wasn't much bigger. The newspaper was interested, of course, because of the competition between Boeing and EADS to build Air Force tankers. Boeing wants to build them in Washington state, and EADS hopes to assemble them in Mobile, Ala.

But the story also said the reception put on by Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi at Kensington Palace on the eve of the show attracted about 400 people, including representatives from Airbus, EADS, Northrop Grumman and Boeing, as well as a lot of suppliers. STORY

You have to really pay close attention if you want to figure out where NASA is heading. And right now, that means following the activities in Congress.

The House Committee on Science and Technology wants to devote $750 million to developing a commercial space industry, well under the $6 billion requested by the Obama administration and the $1.3 billion a Senate panel approved the previous week.

The House authorization bill would also instruct NASA to continue developing its own rocket, which the administration wants to kill.

A decision should be made soon on which Baldwin County, Ala., airstrips will be expanded to handle new Navy training aircraft. Jay Cope, spokesman for Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., said at a Baldwin County Commission meeting that studies are continuing on which two Baldwin outlying fields will get between 500 and 1,500 additional feet of runway.

Whiting, which trains military pilots, has eight outlying fields in the region. The Navy is switching from T-34 Turbo Mentors to T-6B Texan aircraft, which need longer runways to operate.

Bates Engineers/Contractors Inc., Bainbridge, Ga., was awarded a $5 million contract to construct a new 1,400 square meter addition to an existing simulator facility at Hulbert Field, Fla. Corps of Engineers-Mobile Regional Contracting Center, Mobile, Ala., is the contracting activity. … Tybrin Corp., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded an $11.4 million contract modification which will add 70 man-years of software engineering support for guided weapons systems evaluations, simulations and other services supporting research and development for the principals and customers of the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. AAC/PKET, Eglin AFB, is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded an $819.6 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract for special tools/test equipment required in support of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter air system low-rate initial production Lot IV production. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Week in review (7/11 to 7/17)

The Farnborough International Airshow gets underway in London this week, and Mississippi, South Mississippi and the broader region is participating. The state of Mississippi for the first time will have its own pavilion showing the range of Mississippi aerospace activities, including the substantial work done in South Mississippi.

Mississippi is also a member of the four-state Aerospace Alliance, which includes Louisiana, Alabama and northwest Florida. That group is hosting a reception for about 500 aerospace executives and prospects at London's Kensington Palace Sunday evening.

There will be about 70 delegations from 38 countries at the show. The nearly week-long event will include 132,000 trade visitors, 153,000 public visitors, 1,393 exhibitors from 40 countries, 29 international pavilions and 165 aircraft on display, and it will be covered by 1,800 media personnel.

Even before the show got under way, Alabama business and education leaders spent three days in Spain and France meeting with EADS to learn more about the company's training needs, should it win the competition to build tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

The delegation arrived early during the week in Madrid and toured EADS operations. On Friday, the group was at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, and left Saturday for London to attend the Farnborough show.

Earlier during the week, about 300 people showed up for a pep rally in Mobile supporting EADS' bid to build tankers. The celebration was also the formal announcement that EADS is bringing together its 150-member tanker team in Mobile to manage the company's bid during the Air Force's evaluation period. EADS, which plans to assemble the tankers in Mobile, and rival Boeing are competing for the $35 billion contract. A third team, US Aerospace and Antonov, is also in the competition.

A Senate committee during the week unanimously agreed to a blueprint for NASA that cancels the moon program, starts investing in commercial companies that could build rockets to take astronauts in low Earth orbit and speeds development of a heavy-lift rocket for more distant missions.

It also keeps alive the Orion crew capsule portion of Constellation. The measure, which also extends the life of the International Space Station to 2020, must still go to the full Senate. The House has yet to pass its version of the NASA authorization bill.

The panel's version of the bill also calls for adding one more space shuttle flight next year and leaves the door open for yet another flight by instructing NASA to refurbish an old external fuel tank that had not been planned for flight. STORY

One of the panel members said the new plan will protect hundreds of jobs at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the provision requiring the development of Orion should ensure retention of 250 to 300 jobs at Michoud. And the provision directing NASA to begin refurbishing the ET-94 space shuttle external fuel tank should provide 300 to 500 jobs at Michoud. STORY

- An Aerojet AJ26 rocket engine was delivered to NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi on Thursday. It's the first of a series of Taurus II engines that will be tested at SSC to include acceptance testing of flight engines.

Stennis will provide propulsion system acceptance testing for the Taurus II space launch vehicle being developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. The first Taurus II mission will be flown in support of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services cargo demonstration to the International Space Station. Orbital's Taurus II design uses a pair of Aerojet AJ26 rocket engines to provide first stage propulsion for the new launch vehicle.

Unmanned aerial systems
The Fire Scout passed a series of flight demonstrations over 10 days earlier this month in the United Arab Emirates. The MQ-8B demonstrations included takeoffs and landings in hot, windy and sandy conditions in temperatures as high as 117 degrees Fahrenheit and altitudes of up to 9,842 feet. The Navy will conduct operational evaluation of the system later this year aboard the USS Halyburton. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

Joint Strike Fighter
The Government of Canada during the week announced plans to acquire the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as its next-generation fighter aircraft. It will replace Canada's fleet of CF-18 Hornets that entered service in the early 1980s.

The stealth fighter is being developed and funded by a consortium of nine countries, including Canada, which plans to acquire 65 F-35s. Delivery of Canada's F-35s will begin in 2016. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the joint strike fighter training center.

For the second time in less than a week, an international air carrier has announced new service between New Orleans and Toronto. Air Canada, which operated out of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, said it will resume flights from the city Oct. 30.

Science Applications International Corp., McLean, Va., was awarded a $9.5 million contract for information technology ashore operations support services for the Navy's Military Sealift Command. Work will be performed primarily in Washington, D.C., and other sites in Norfolk, Va., Pensacola, Fla., and San Diego, Calif. … Simplex Corp., Hallandale, Fla., was awarded an $11.8 million contract which will lease four Mi-8/17 aircraft with the period of performance from Oct. 1, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011. HQ AFSOC/A7KQ, Hurlburt Field, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Boeing Co., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $7 million contract which will support the 40mm gun requirement for the AC-130 Plus Four program.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Week in review (7/4 to 7/10)

Three bids have been submitted in the $35 billion contest to build aerial refueling tankers for the Air Force. The Pentagon will decide the winner in November. Mobile, Ala., which hopes to get a tanker assembly plant, is of course pulling for an EADS win.

Chicago-based Boeing submitted its 8,000-page proposal Friday, a day after its European competitor EADS, parent of Airbus, submitted its 8,800-page bid. Also on Friday, dark horse candidate US Aerospace and partner Antonov submitted a bid.

The contract is to build 179 planes to replace Eisenhower-era KC-135s. The Air Force has a tanker fleet of over 400, so long term the contract means a lot more money than this initial $35 billion.

Boeing wants to build tankers in Washington and Kansas. EADS wants to assemble its modified A330 in Mobile. The US Aerospace-Antonov planes, AN-112KC jets, would be built in the Ukraine and modified at an unspecified site in the United States.

Boeing was awarded a contract in 2003, but that was killed by a scandal. EADS and its then-partner Northrop Grumman won in February 2008, but that was killed by a Boeing protest upheld by the Government Accountability Office. Northrop dropped out of this round, saying the request for proposals favors the smaller tanker offered by Boeing.

A Boeing win would continue a tradition of building tankers in Washington state, while an EADS win would give Mobile and the Gulf Coast a major boost to its considerable aerospace corridor.

- We learned last week that the World Trade Organization will delay until mid-September a ruling on a complaint accusing the U.S. of providing illegal public subsidies to Boeing. The WTO ruled the week before that EADS-owned Airbus had received billions of dollars in illegal government aid.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is moving toward an authorization bill that would reverse much of the president's proposed changes to NASA's human space flight program.

The bill lays out the direction of the space program for the next three years. It would add another space shuttle flight, speed development of a heavy-lift rocket and move ahead with building a spacecraft to venture beyond low-Earth orbit. It would also require companies to demonstrate their capabilities before receiving large contracts for delivering astronauts to the International Space Station.

- Over 1,000 people were on hand Thursday at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to send off the last external fuel tank for the space shuttle program. The ceremony offered plant workers a chance to celebrate their involvement in the space program even as fears loom about the facility's future.

The last space shuttle flight is scheduled for February of next year, leaving many workers at Michoud fearing for their jobs. A spare tank is still in production. But the move by the Senate panel may give the workers reason for hope.

Ground has been broken on a new general aviation building at Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. The building on the southwest side of the airport is scheduled to be finished in December. Fixed-base operator Million Air will provide general airport services, including aircraft refueling and airplane rentals. The new building will have more than 52,000 square feet of combined terminal, office and hangar space, executive conference rooms and a business center along with a U.S. Customs facility.

United Technologies, Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $57.6 million modification to convert a previously awarded advance acquisition contract to an undefinitized contract action. This modification further provides for the procurement of 32 low-rate initial production F-135 propulsion systems for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. … Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded an advance acquisition contract with an estimated value of $522.2 million to provide for long-lead efforts and materials associated with the production and delivery of 42 low-rate initial production Lot V F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home to the F-35 joint training center.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Week in review (6/27 to 7/3)

The Air Force tanker project, a source of amusement, anger and frustration for the Gulf Coast region for quite some time, just keeps getting more bizarre. Late in the week a new player, Ukranian aircraft manufacturer Antonov and its California partner US Aerospace, said they will submit a bid on the $40 billion to build the 179 planes. The bids are due July 9.

The joint venture is considering offering the An-124, An-122 and An-112. It would be built in the Ukraine with final assembly somewhere in the United States, reportedly in the Southeast or Midwest. Antonov builds some of the largest planes in the world and became a Ukranian company after the breakup of the Soviet Union. You might have even seen one. Antonov AN-124s bring huge Rolls-Royce Trent engines to Stennis International Airport for testing at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss.

But even if it manages to put in a bid, what kind of a chance to you think this latest player has in the competition? If you think the subsidies bidder EADS gets from the European Union increases the blood pressure of Boeing supporters, imagine what they think of this competitor. Government owned? A U.S. partner with financial problems? Word is the venture wants an extension of the deadline, but will bid even without an extension.

Yeah, that's a horse I’ll bet on.

- On the subject of tankers, a potential game changer is waiting in the wings, so to speak. Ever hear of the KQ-X? Keep that tucked away in your "wave of the future" file.

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, better known by its abbreviation, DARPA, said last week that it will spend $33 million to have Northrop Grumman proceed with a demonstration of one unmanned aircraft refueling another.

Northrop will refit a high-flying Global Hawk with a hose-and-drogue refueling system to see if it can refuel another refitted drone, this one a NASA Global Hawk. The whole process will be completely autonomous.

The refueling will take place at a much higher altitude than has been previously demonstrated with manned aircraft. It will also be the first time that high-altitude UAVs have flown in formation.

The demonstration will mark yet another milestone in the move to replace manned missions with those that can be performed by unmanned aircraft. As it is, the thinking is that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may be the last manned fighter. How long before we see the end of manned refueling aircraft?

Revealing is a sentence that was in the DoD contract announcement: "A successful outcome will allow developers of future unmanned aircraft to produce more cost-effective systems that rely on aerial refueling for the most demanding missions."

So let me see if I have this right. The Air Force will be spending $40 billion to replace 1950s era planes with a plane that's been flying for 30 years (767) or one that's been around for 20 (A330). Nevermind that the tankers are "new" versions. At the same time it's providing tax dollars to replace KC-135s, it's funding a project that points to the future – a drone tanker. Knowing the pace of technological change we've experienced, isn't it possible we'll start replacing manned tankers with unmanned tankers even before all the KC-135s are replace?

I feel certain there are people at the Pentagon that see this and know full well that technology changes exponentially. Look at what's happened with computers and communications. And the advancements in unmanned systems can be mind-boggling. In a relatively short time we've gone from UAVs that provide reconnaissance to those that can kill an enemy. A new generation of microdrones can mimic birds or insects, and yet another category that harks back to years past - airships - will be able to stay on station for weeks at a time, if not longer.

I'm not afraid to go out on the limb. So here goes: The Air Force KC-X tanker project won't last as long as people think. Sure, some of those tankers will be built. But at some point before the last KC-135s is replaced the program will be killed and replaced by a new multibillion-dollar tanker project for drone tankers or airships.

Certainly food for thought.

- Speaking of Global Hawks, the German version of the plane, called the Euro Hawk, successfully completed its first flight June 29. It took off from the company's Palmdale, Calif., manufacturing facility and climbed to 32,000 feet before landing nearly two hours later at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The UAV will be equipped with a signals intelligence mission system developed by EADS Defense and Security.

- In a ruling that could impact the current battle between Boeing and EADS - and the Antonov-US Aerospace team - over building Air Force tankers, the World Trade Organization ruled that aid European governments provided to Airbus violated global trade rules.

The WTO ruled that four decades of government-backed loans to Airbus helped it gain foreign sales, harming Boeing. The ruling was anticipated by the U.S. aerospace industry. The U.S. filed the case in 2004, accusing the European Union of unfair trade practices by subsidizing Airbus with hundreds of millions of dollars in "launch-aid loans."

Airbus officials said the EU would appeal the ruling.

The WTO is expected to rule next month on a countersuit accusing the U.S. of unfairly subsidizing Boeing. EADS, owner of Airbus, wants to assemble its tankers in Mobile, Ala.

- In Mobile, Ala., the city council, county commission, airport authority and city industrial development board modified incentive agreements each made in 2006 in an attempt to lure refueling tanker assembly to Mobile. The deals are similar to those granted at that time.

The Northrop Grumman/EADS team won the $40 million contract in February 2008, but it was overturned after a Boeing protest. Northrop dropped out after it determined the new requirements favored a smaller plane offered by Boeing.

- The Airbus Engineering Center at Mobile, Ala.’s Brookley Industrial Complex will be getting another 90 engineers. The center currently has 150. The employees at the center, opened in 2007, work on cabin interiors, cargo systems and escape systems on a wide range of Airbus jets.

St. Joe, a Florida real estate development company, provided a $1.25 million donation to the National Flight Academy at the National Aviation Museum, located at Naval Air Station Pensacola. The academy, which will provide week-long sessions to students in 7th through 12th grades, is set to open in 2012. Its purpose is to motivate students to learn more about science, technology, engineering and math in what's called a "learning adventure."

- An aircrew from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., found that a storm that had been upgraded from tropical storm to hurricane status hours before they took off had reached Category 2 status by the time they returned home. They had been in the storm more than seven hours. Hurricane Alex came ashore late in the evening of June 29 on an unpopulated stretch of coast in northern Mexico.

NASA is targeting Nov. 1 for the launch of space shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission and Feb. 26, 2011, for the liftoff of shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 flight from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The target dates were adjusted because critical payload hardware for STS-133 will not be ready in time to support the previously planned Sept. 16 launch.

- NASA and Lockheed Martin Space Systems will hold a ceremony at 9 a.m. Thursday, July 8, at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to commemorate 37 years of tank deliveries and the final external tank's rollout. The last shuttle flight, STS 134, is scheduled for February 2011. The tank will travel by barge to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

- A House panel agreed during the week to accept President Obama's proposed funding increase for NASA, but without taking a position on changing the agency's course. The House appropriations subcommittee governing NASA unanimously approved $19 billion for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The panel opted to take to take no position on White House plans to scrap NASA's moon-rocket program and replace the space shuttle with commercial rockets.

- Roy Estess, former director of NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, died June 25 at age 71. Estess had an allergic reaction to an insect string. His career at NASA spanned 37 years, with 25 of that at Stennis Space Center.

Joint Strike Fighter
Northrop Grumman delivered to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Integrated Training Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the first set of instructional materials needed to train pilots and aircraft maintainers for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The center will open this summer.

The electronic materials include all of the presentation materials that classroom instructors will use to teach pilots how to fly the F-35, and maintainers how to repair and support the aircraft. Northrop Grumman is a principal subcontractor for the Lockheed Martin-built plane that will be used by the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and foreign nations.

L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., is being awarded a $51.3 million contract to provide aircraft maintenance and logistics life cycle support for 54 Navy and 11 Marine Corps C-12 aircraft. Works is at a variety of locations, including NAS New Orleans.