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.