Saturday, December 25, 2010

Week in review (12/19 to 12/25)

More political maneuvering surrounding the Air Force aerial tanker issue, a milestone for a rocket engine that will be tested at Stennis Space Center, a lost service at one airport, and a decision of an aircraft manufacturer to stay put rather than move to Louisiana highlighted the aerospace activity for the Gulf Coast during the week.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings next month on the release of  proprietary data in the $40 billion aerial tanker contest. The Air Force mistakenly sent material intended for Boeing to EADS North America and material for EADS to Boeing. Sen. Carl Levin also plans to hold hearings Feb. 1 to review the procurement process.

- An 11th hour insertion of a provision that would force the Air Force to consider subsidies probably won't remain when the bill goes to the Senate. But it caused a clash between Boeing and EADS backers. Boeing backers want it to improve the chances for the company in the competition to build tankers for the Air Force. EADS backers say it's an underhanded attempt to tilt the contest. EADS plans to assemble the tankers in Mobile, Ala., if the company wins.

Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne completed another major subassembly for NASA's first J-2X rocket engine. The turbopump assembly follows the successful assembly of the oxidizer turbopump, which delivers high-pressure liquid oxygen to the main injector. The engine's first hot-fire tests are planned for early 2011 at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne is headquartered in Canoga Park, Calif., and has facilities in Huntsville, Ala., Kennedy Space Center, Fla., West Palm Beach, Fla., and Stennis Space

AirTran next year will stop serving Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, the company announced. The service ends March 6, according to an AirTran spokesman. The airline offers flights from Gulfport to Atlanta and Tampa three times a week. The director of air service and business development at the airport said there are a couple of prospects looking to step in and fill the void.

- Rolls-Royce was awarded an $89 million contract by the Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River, Md., to provide support for the F405 engines that power the Navy's T-45 training aircraft. The contract provides services to more than 200 aircraft operating at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss., Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., and Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

Hawker Beechcraft will be remaining in Kansas rather than moving to Louisiana after accepting a $45 million incentives package from the state, city and county. The deal requires Hawker to maintain its current product lines, which includes propeller planes and jets, along with 4,000 jobs in Wichita over the next 10 years.

- A company that hopes to maintain C-130 military aircraft plans to hire 50 people at South Alabama Regional Airport near Andalusia, Ala. Support Systems Associates Inc. of Melbourne, Fla., announced this month the opening of Support Systems Andalusia Alabama. The company also has an operation in Mary Esther, Fla.

Universal Technology Corp., Dayton, Ohio, was awarded a $9.9 million contract to provide research and development of on-site support in the Airbase Sciences Branch at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. 325 Contracting Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, is the contracting activity.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Week in review (12/12 to 12/18)

Another test firing of the AJ26 rocket engine in Mississippi, the sale of a Mobile, Ala., aerospace company to the Chinese, a name change at a major aerospace parks and a controversy over the success of a new airport were just some of the Gulf Coast aerospace stories during the past week.

At Stennis Space Center, Miss., NASA conducted a 55-second test fire of the liquid-fuel AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences' Taurus II space launch vehicle. Taurus II uses a pair Aerojet AJ26 rocket engines to provide first stage propulsion.

The test late in the week on the E-1 test stand involved a team of Orbital, Aerojet, and Stennis. The test was the second in a series of verification tests. A third hot-fire test also is planned to verify tuning of engine control valves.

The AJ26 engine is designed to power the Taurus II space vehicle on flights to low Earth orbit. NASA's partnership with Orbital was formed under the agency's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services joint research and development project to enable commercial cargo flights to the International Space Station. The company is under contract with NASA to provide eight cargo missions to the space station through 2015.

Teledyne Continental Motors, headquartered in Mobile, Ala., is being sold to Technify Motors for $186 million. The sale was announced early in the week by California-based Teledyne Technologies Inc. and China-based AVIC International.

Teledyne Continental Motors makes piston engines, spare parts and components for small propeller-driven general aviation aircraft. It has about 400 workers in Mobile, as well as service centers in Fairhope, Ala. and Mattituck, N.Y.

The companies say the sale will enhance Continental Motors' ability to compete in growing overseas markets like China. AVIC plans to retain Continental Motors' senior management and headquarters in Mobile. It also sets the stage for new hires in Mobile as international demand for piston-powered aircraft would result in increased engine manufacturing at Continental Motors.

- The Brookley Industrial Complex has changed its name to Brookley Aeroplex. Bill Sisson, the executive director of the Mobile Airport Authority, said the Brookley name was retained as a reminder of the former Air Force base that was closed in the 1960s. Aeroplex was used because it relects the multi-modal nature of Brookley. The complex is also called the downtown airport. Brookley is where EADS wants to assemble tankers for the Air Force if it wins a contest against Boeing.

- North American Airlines, which operates charter airplanes for the military and others, signed a letter of intent with the U.S. holding company for Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd., to convert 757s to carry 45 passengers and 10 cargo pallets. Holding company Vision Technologies Systems said the work would be done in Mobile by ST Aerospace Mobile. The company has 1,200 employees at the Brookley Aeroplex.

- The total economic impact of Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in 2009 was $291.7 million, according to the report released during the week. The impact is a combination of the direct impact from commercial and military flights, the indirect impact that comes from the money spent in the local economy by tourists and other passengers and the induced impact from airport employees and suppliers who use wages to buy local goods and services.

- In the Fort Walton Beach, Fla., area, Northwest Florida Regional Airport's newest airline started offering service Friday. Vision Airlines is offering direct flights to and from New York's Niagara Falls International Airport and Miami International Airport on Fridays and Sundays.

- So is the new airport in Panama City a success or a failure? Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport officials were a bit upset about an Associated Press story questioning the new airport's success. The AP story questioned the future viability of the airport because of low passenger count. Flights in October on average were only 60 percent full, compared to a national average of 83 percent.

But officials from the airport prefer pointing out that the new airport is drawing nearly three times more passengers than the old Panama City airport. From the grand opening at the end of May through November, the airport has provided service to more than 446,000 travelers.

Airport Director Randy Curtis said the real gauge is growth year to year. This October the airport had 74,372 passengers. Last October it had 26,000. He also said the airport is serving more passengers than either the Fort Walton Beach airport or the Tallahassee airport.

Okaloosa County commissioners got a preview of nation's first military Joint Strike Fighter integrated training center at the 33rd Fighter Wing's campus at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., on Dec. 14. Since the wing transitioned from its combat heritage to Air Education and Training Command, many visitors have asked to get a glimpse into the future DoD aviation and all things related to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from ground operations, to generating sorties to certifying pilots for flight.

Unmanned systems
In preparation for deployment early next year, Northrop Grumman and the Navy verified that the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter is functionally compatible with communications systems on board the USS Halyburton.

Known as integration verification, this process cleared the way for Fire Scout to conduct bluewater, unrestricted, operations from the Halyburton. In April 2010, Fire Scout concluded a military utility assessment on board the USS McInerney, a frigate similar to the Halyburton.

While the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ships are Fire Scout's intended home, the system is being integrated with other ships to expand its utility. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

- The unmanned Northrop Grumman/Bell Helicopter Fire-X demonstrator had its first flight Dec. 10 in Yuma, Ariz., according to the program team. Fire-X is designed to compete in the potentially lucrative market for unmanned rotorcraft to move cargo or gather intelligence.

The aircraft, which retains the ability to be piloted, was ferried to Yuma from Bell's Xworx facility in Arlington, Texas. Fire-X, built on the commercial Bell 407 platform, was modified at Xworx with computers, actuators and other systems from Northrop's MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter.

- Euro Hawk, the version of Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk unmanned aerial system built for the German air force, passed an endurance milestone with a 30.3-hour flight at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Northrop Grumman is partnered with EADS Deutschland GmbH, operating through Cassidian, the defense and security division of EADS. The test was Dec. 1 and 2, and the Euro Hawk flew at 60,000 feet. It has logged nearly 100 total flight hours since its maiden flight five months ago. Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., did fuselage work on the Euro Hawk.

Raytheon's SLAMRAAM (Surface Launched Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) system successfully participated in a second ballistic test vehicle firing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. SLAMRAAM can defeat current and emerging cruise missile threats, and this was the second test firing from a medium tactical vehicle. The vehicle was chosen as the new platform to provide improved crew and system survivability, particularly in light of lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom. The new platform provides additional armored capability and is more ruggedized to support the SLAMRAAM mission.

- The Thunderbirds, the Air Force precision flying team, will perform at more than 70 shows across the United States and abroad in 2011. The team will kick off the season with a Feb. 20 flyover for the Daytona 500. Two shows are scheduled for Northwest Florida. One is March 26-27 at Tyndall Air Force Base and the other is April 14-15 at Eglin Air Force Base.

All Native Service Co., Bellevue, Neb., is being awarded a $22.7 million contract for technology advancement support services to the Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate at Fort Belvoir, Va. Eleven percent of the work will be done at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. … CC Distributors, Corpus Christi, Texas, was awarded a $9 million contract to provide for authorized civil engineer personnel and self-help customers to purchase materials, equipment and supplies. AAAC/PKOB, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … EADS North American Defense, Arlington, Va., was awarded a $9.9 million contract to provide for the retrofitting 28 ARC-231 airborne communication systems. Work will be completed in Columbus, Miss. … Broadmoor Pittman, JV, Metairie, La., was awarded a $20 million contract to provide for the construction of Building 449 redundant pump station at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility at New Orleans. … Signal Technology Corp., Keltec Operations, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., is being awarded a maximum $14 million contract for high voltage modules. … Jacobs Technology Inc., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded $10 million under a previously awarded contract to provide technical support to the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va. … Wyle of El Segundo, Calif., was awarded a $318 million five-year task order to provide engineering and integration support services to the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office. Most of the work will be done in Arlington, Va. with field support at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and Fort Worth, Texas.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Week in review (12/5 to 12/11)

You might think from a couple of stories during the week that Mobile, Ala., is on its way to becoming the home of an EADS North America aircraft assembly plant. First there was word from an analyst that Boeing officials think they're losing, and then there was news that EADS North America is soliciting bids to build the Mobile center.

But you would be better off taking a wait-and-see approach. If you've followed the tanker saga, you already know to expect the unexpected. The fat lady has yet to sing.

The Mobile Press-Register reported on Monday that Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said EADS will beat Boeing in the competition to build tankers for the Air Force. Thompson said Boeing executives concluded EADS is ahead after getting a look at the Air Force's internal analysis of the two competing bids.

The Seattle Times, Seattle PI and The Herald did stories as well. And Thompson, who has been an advocate for Boeing, wrote a piece later explaining in great detail why he thinks it all looks so grim for Boeing.

Then on Wednesday EADS North America issued a press release saying it's soliciting bids for design and construction of the Mobile Conversion Center, where KC-45 aerial refueling tanker aircraft will be militarized for the Air Force.

The conversion center is part of an aircraft production facility that EADS North America will build in Mobile at the downtown Brookley Industrial Complex if it wins the tanker contest. EADS has also committed to build commercial A330 freighter aircraft at the same site. Earlier this year, the company began its transfer of the KC-45 program management team, nearly 200 employees, to new offices in Mobile.

The Air Force expects to announce a winner for the $40 billion competition early next year. I’m still thinking the only way out of this mess is to split the contract. We'll have to wait and see.

During the week there was also a fascinating first for commercial space travel. A commercial company, SpaceX, launched a space capsule into orbit and brought it back safely. It was praised as a milestone in the future of space travel.

The unmanned Dragon spacecraft left Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday atop a Falcon 9 rocket and entered orbit 10 minutes later. It circled Earth twice before splash-down in the Pacific. NASA heaped praise on the effort.

The next step is a fly-by of the International Space Station, then a cargo and crew mission to the ISS, both in 2011. NASA signed a contract with SpaceX in December 2008 under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program to provide 12 spacecraft to resupply the ISS through 2016. It also signed a contract with Orbital Space Corp. for eight launches of its Taurus II rocket starting in 2011.

Wednesday's flight was important for the Obama administration's hopes to expand commercial space efforts as a way to free up NASA funds for missions to send astronauts much deeper into space and ultimately to Mars.

This is all pretty important to Stennis Space Center, Miss., which is testing the AJ26 propulsion systems for the Orbital Space Corp. program and expects to be heavily involved in testing engines for commercial ventures.

In another space-related story of interest to Stennis Space Center, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne successfully completed assembly of the oxidizer turbopump on NASA's J-2X rocket engine, moving the next-generation, human-rated rocket engine a step closer to testing at Stennis Space Center in 2011.

The J-2X engine was developed with heavy-lift capabilities in mind, and could play an important role as a powerful upper-stage engine for future missions to low-Earth orbit, Mars or an asteroid.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to give the Marines two additional years to develop its version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to correct technical and manufacturing glitches. That's good news for those who want the Marines to have their own version of the fighter. The president's debt commission has proposed terminating the Marine Corps version to save money.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is scheduled to become home of the JSF training center - with or without a Marine version of the aircraft.

In another F-35 news story during the week, Pratt & Whitney reported it's delivered the first production F135 Short Take Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) engine. That’s the one used in the Marine Corps version.

The F135 engine has completed more than 20,000 hours of testing, 3,600 test hours during the concept demonstration phase, 15,800 test hours during development and more than 700 hours powering the F-35 flight test program.

The conventional takeoff and landing and carrier variant engine received Initial Service Release in February 2010, and the STOVL version is on track to receive ISR certification before the end of the year, according to Pratt & Whitney.

Textron Systems Corp., Wilmington, Mass., was awarded a $258 million contract which will provide for 512 sensor-fuzed weapons CBU-105 production units and 44 training units. This contract supports foreign military sales to India. AAC/EBJK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $76 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract activity providing additional funding 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 for the Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Navy. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Week in review (11/28 to 12/4)

Another delay in the launch of Discovery, the F-35 cost controversy, a new Boeing operation in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., praise for the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter and a super secret Air Force unmanned space vehicle were all a part of the aerospace news of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

First, an item of interest to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which is scheduled to become the home of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Training Center. The Pentagon is drawing a line on the cost of the Lockheed Martin plane. The cost has almost doubled to $92 million a jet since 2002, Ashton Carter, the defense acquisition chief said during the week.

The Pentagon has maintained an option to buy more Boeing F- 18s if development of the F-35 falters. Boeing has said it can supply more F-18 Super Hornets or F-15 Strike Eagles if needed. The Super Hornet costs less than $50 million per unit. (Story)

Lockheed Martin said it shares Pentagon concerns about cost increases and testing delays, but said changes are being made to ensure the fighter remained affordable. But the eventual fate of the short takeoff version of the F-35 could impact the cost.

Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright said during the week that officials were considering whether it would still be economical to build the Marine Corps version now that Britain has opted for a different variant. That could affect Lockheed's ability to produce the plane economically since the sole remaining customers would be the Marines and Italy. (Story)

Meanwhile, engine-supplier Pratt & Whitney hopes to sign for a fourth batch of F-35 engines within weeks. It accepted a government request to negotiate a fixed-price incentive contract instead of the originally planned cost-plus deal. This covers 31 F-35s powered by Pratt F135 engines. The company wants to get the F135 down to the same cost as the F-22s F119 engine by the 250th delivery. (Story)

Boeing jobs
Boeing's Defense, Space and Security division plans to open a technical publication organization in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., according to a story in the Wichita Eagle during the week.

It's not yet known how the change will impact the 700 employees who work in technical publications for Boeing's defense business, said Boeing Wichita spokesman Jarrod Bartlett. According to the newspaper, the site is scheduled to open in 2012, he said.

Boeing already has a Fort Walton Beach facility whose primary focus is engineering work for the Air Force Special Operations Command.

When the Air Force mistakenly sent data to Boeing that was intended for EADS and vice versa, Boeing didn't open the computer files but EADS did. To rectify that situation, the Air Force took the unusual step of deliberately re-sending the data to ensure neither could claims of bias.

The odd step was taken to ensure a level playing field, according to an Air Force spokesman. EADS North America hopes to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala., if it wins the $40 billion competition.

More and more it looks like a split contract may be the only way out of this mess.

Fire Scout
During the course of one day last month, the Navy's Fire Scout unmanned helicopter operated in four different locations across the United States and took off for the first time from a Littoral Combat Ship, USS Freedom.

The Navy and industry partner Northrop Grumman tested the aircraft at Webster Field, Md., Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., aboard the USS Halyburton off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., and USS Freedom at the sea range in Point Mugu, Calif.

Rear Adm. Bill Shannon, Program Executive Officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, said it "sets the stage for the introduction of a game-changing capability to our warfighters."

Fire Scout has surpassed more than 1,000 flight hours since the test program began in December 2006. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers recently released a new and improved system designed to more efficiently find software glitches during the development process, according to an article in Signal Online. It's called the Advanced Combinatorial Testing System.

Rick Kuhn, a NIST computer scientist who helped develop ACTS, says the 46th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has used ACTS in test and evaluation work and is now rolling out the methods to other Air Force organizations.

NIST reported in 2002 that software bugs cost the economy nearly $60 billion even though 50 percent of software development budgets are devoted to testing. Testing every possible variable is not practical. NIST first released the ACTS in 2008 and distributed it freely to 465 organizations and individuals in government, industry and academia.

- An Eglin Air Force Base team emerged victorious in the 2010 Air Force Research Laboratory Commander's Challenge, a competition where each team designs, develops and demonstrates a solution to an urgent warfighter need.

The challenge for this year's competition involved developing a perimeter surveillance and detection system for a forward operating base and combat outposts, primarily in the Afghanistan theatre of operations.

The Shuttle Discovery won't launch on its space station resupply mission until at least Feb. 3. That will give engineers more time to carry out tests to help figure out what caused cracks in the ship's external tank and what might need to be done before Discovery can be cleared for flight.

The external tanks were constructed at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. All shuttle engine testing was done at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

- An unmanned spacecraft, the X-37B, landed early Friday after more than 7 months in orbit. The winged autonomous vehicle, built by Boeing originally for NASA before it became an Air Force project, landed at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base.

It launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on April 22. While it looks like the Space Shuttle, it's much smaller and can be launched from atop a Delta V rocket. The Gulf Coast region has interests in unmanned systems and space-related activities.

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Melbourne, Fla., was awarded a $9.5 million modification to a previously awarded contract for continued post-delivery technical support for Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System units, a helicopter-mounted anti-mine system, deployed from surface ships and aircraft carriers in a carrier strike group or amphibious strike group. The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity.