It was a week where the aerospace news stories for the Gulf Coast region were all over the charts: Congress approved a blueprint for NASA, Michoud laid off workers, Southwest Airlines said it plans to buy AirTran, and a lot of contracts with Gulf Coast ties were awarded.
Congress has given the thumbs up to a plan for NASA that extends the space shuttle program for a year and backs the use commercial carriers for transporting humans into near-Earth space. The bill dismantles the Bush-era Constellation Program, which sought to return astronauts to the moon, and extends the life of the International Space Station to 2020.
At Stennis Space Center, Miss., where propulsion systems are tested and certified, center director Patrick Scheuermann said he'’s confident Stennis will be fully utilized for future space exploration. In addition to testing engines for NASA, the facility for years has also been used by commercial companies to test engines.
But at Michoud Assembly Facility in east New Orleans, about 300 workers were laid off as production of the space shuttle external fuel tank ended. Lockheed Martin had about 1,500 people at MAF at the start of the year, but the number has dropped as various stages of external fuel tank production have ended. It'’s down to about 600.
- In another space-related matter, NASA chose the Naval Research Laboratory's Wide-field Imager to be part of the Solar Probe Plus mission set for launch no later than 2018. The Solar Probe Plus will plunge directly into the sun's atmosphere about four million miles from our star's surface to explore a region no other spacecraft ever encountered in a bid to unlock the sun's biggest mysteries. The Naval Research Lab has a detachment at Stennis Space Center, Miss.
Over $1 million in grants from the state of Florida will go to expand buffer zones around Naval Air Station Whiting Field near Milton, Fla., and Naval Air Station Pensacola. The Navy is also contributing $1.2 million to Santa Rosa County to buy land around Whiting, a key aviation training center. The Florida Defense Infrastructure grants are awarded annually to protect Florida's bases.
- At Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Maj. Gen. Kenneth Merchant is scheduled to be the next Air Armament Center and Air Force program executive officer for weapons. Merchant will arrive from Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., where he's director of logistics. Maj. Gen. C. R. Davis, the current program executive officer for weapons and Air Armament Center commander, was nominated for appointment to lieutenant general, and will be reassigned to Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.
- Also at Eglin, Dr. Mikel Miller was promoted to chief scientist and senior technologist for the Air Force Research Lab Munitions Directorate. In his new position, Miller will help lead the AFRL Munitions Directorate to the next generation of munitions systems. He wants to boost the number of AFRL scientists who have doctorate degrees from 17 percent to 30 to 35 percent by hiring new scientists and through internal academic growth.
- In another Eglin-related story, Boeing successfully completed the first flight tests of the MK-84 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition. The first two of seven planned tests at Eglin demonstrated the 2,000-pound weapon's capability against fixed, relocatable and moving targets. The test was in July, but only announced this past week. An existing JDAM can become a Laser JDAM with the installation of the Precision Laser Guidance Set.
Avalex Technologies, which makes aerial surveillance equipment, is moving its headquarters from Pensacola, Fla., to nearby Gulf Breeze. The 9.2-acre property is the former home of a car dealership. The new building will be some 53,000 square feet, way larger than the 17,000 square feet of two downtown Pensacola buildings Avalex now uses.
Southwest Airlines plans to buy AirTran for about $1.4 billion, a move that will give the combined airline operations in more than 100 different airports. In the Gulf Coast region, AirTran serves the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, New Orleans and Pensacola. Southwest Airlines serves New Orleans and the newly opened airport in Panama City Beach, Fla.
That announcement has accelerated a move in South Mississippi to establish an airline travel bank. Businesses and individuals are being asked to pledge support to keep AirTran flying and increase service at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Business Council and Chamber of Commerce have been working for months to establish an Airline Travel Bank.
OK, if you're going to read this part of the column, grab a cup of coffee and relax. It will take some time to get through it all. It was an active week for DoD contracts with ties to the Gulf Coast aerospace region. L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, of Madison, Miss., was awarded two contracts during the week. The largest was a $125 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot level maintenance to support 47 T-45A and 158 T-45C aircraft based at Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss., NAS Kingsville, Texas, NAS Pensacola, Fla., and Patuxent River, Md. Work is expected to be completed in September 2011. The other contract was an $18.5 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for logistics support for TH-57B/TH-57C aircraft. Nearly all the work, 99 percent, will be done at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla. Work is expected to be completed in March 2011. … Sikorsky Support Services Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a $63.5 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for contractor logistics support services for the T-34, T-44 and T-6 aircraft. Forty-three percent of the work will be done at the Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., and 10 percent at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Work is expected to be completed in March 2011. … Rolls-Royce Defense Services Inc., Indianapolis, Ind., was awarded an $89.1 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for intermediate and depot level maintenance and related support for in-service T-45 F405-RR-401 Adour engines. The modification provides for inventory control, sustaining engineering and configuration management, as well as integrated logistics support and required engineering elements necessary to support the F405-RR-401 engine at the organization level. Work will be performed at the Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, NAS Meridian, Miss., NAS Pensacola, Fla., and NAS Patuxent River, Md., and is expected to be completed in September 2011. … Mississippi Aerospace Corp., Picayune, Miss., was awarded an $8.6 million contract which will acquire loadmaster scanner crashworthy seats for the Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130H/W and EC 130J aircraft, and Air Combat Command and Air Force Reserve Command HC-130P aircraft. Air Force Special Operations Command is based at Hurlburt Field, Fla. … Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Aerospace Battle Management and Engagement Systems Decision Support and Targeting, of Hollywood, Md., was awarded a $99 million contract to procure weapons planning software. AAC/EBSK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Kaman Precision Products Inc., Orlando, Fla., was awarded a $36 million contract modification which will procure joint programmable fuze systems for four Foreign Military Sales countries at a total quantity of 10,518 units. AAC/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $10.2 million contract modification to extend the period of performance of the Advanced Medium Range Air-to Air Missile (AMRAAM) aircraft integration support effort through Sept. 30, 2013. AAC/EBAK (AMRAAM Development Branch), Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.