Saturday, January 29, 2011

Week in review (1/23 to 1/29)

As this column shows, there's plenty of Gulf Coast-related aerospace news in any given week. But I also track other science and technology fields in this region, so starting this week, I'm providing - after the aerospace wrap-up - some tidbids from related fields of interest to this region. I hope it will help readers understand just how big a role science and technology plays in the Gulf Coast region.

The much ballyhooed Gorgon Stare, an airborne surveillance system that would vastly increase the area a drone can see, was deemed "not operationally effective" when tested in the fall by the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. But military officials rightfully point out that such tests are done precisely to find problems beforehand, and fixes are being put in place.

The problems, including low image quality and an inability to sufficiently track people on the ground, were detailed in a six-page December draft report obtained by the Center for Defense Information's Winslow Wheeler. The memo, marked as a draft and pre-decisional, found more than a dozen problems.

Gorgon Stare, being developed by Sierra Nevada and the Air Force, uses nine or more cameras aboard a Reaper unmanned system to survey a city-sized area. It promises to increase surveillance capabilities dramatically (Brief).

- Speaking of the 53rd Wing, Eglin Air Force Base will host a 70th anniversary celebration Thursday at Hangar 1343. According to Eglin, festivities include a brief history of the wing, time capsule dedication and a former commander of the wing as guest speaker. Combat aircraft from many of the operational test wing units will be on display during the ceremony, including an F-16, F-15, F-4, B-1, B-52 and others.

- An F-15E Strike Eagle at Eglin Air Force Base flew its first sortie with a new radar system that replaces the 24-year-old APG-70 radar system, according to Eglin. The 46th Test Wing fighter flew with the APG-82(V)1 Jan. 18. The new radar uses active electronically scanned array radar technology composed of numerous small solid-state transmit and receive modules. The standard radar, APG-70, is a mechanically scanned array housed in the nose of the aircraft. The new radar removes the motors and hydraulics of the old system and includes a new avionics and cooling system.

An economist says Okaloosa County, Fla., will experience 10 years of growth in the next two years. Rick Harper of the University of West Florida made the comment during the week at the annual Military-Community Sustainability Forum.

Harper cited personnel and mission increases brought about through base realignment, as well as Vision Airlines making an airport in Okaloosa County a hub. He said the challenge will be managing the expected growth.

The forum also included a panel discussion that featured some of the top commanders at Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field and Naval Air Station Whiting Field. They provided, among other things, updates on the move of the 7th Special Forces to Eglin and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. (Story)

Speaking of the F-35, Pentagon officials unveiled details during the week of some changes that will be made to the Marine Corps version of the F-35 during its two-year probation, according to the New York Times. Among the changes are a redesign of parts related to the propulsion system and reinforcement of the fuselage. Meanwhile, the Pentagon's delay of the purchase of 124 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin beyond fiscal 2016 should reduce its five-year budget request by $6.9 billion, officials say (Story). Eglin Air Force Base will be the home of the F-35 training center.

NASA says two tests of an Aerojet AJ26 engine at Stennis Space Center, Miss., were so successful that Orbital Science Corp. engineers decided a planned third test was unnecessary. The AJ26 engine was removed from the E-1 test stand at SSC Jan. 24 and will be returned to Aerojet in California to be refurbished and used on an upcoming Taurus II mission.

The same day the engine was removed, the first flight engine was installed to begin regularly planned "acceptance testing" at SSC. The AJ26 flight unit will be tested in February, and then delivered to Orbital at the Wallops Flight Facility launch site in Virginia for integration with the rocket's first stage core. Orbital's Taurus II rocket will be used to carry out commercial cargo supply mission to the International Space Station (Brief).

- Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., has been named chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, a key appointment for a freshman congressman who represents an area that includes NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Palazzo defeated incumbent Gene Taylor in the November elections.

Defense industry sources told The Hill in recent weeks that the $35 billion contract to build Air Force tankers won't be awarded until mid-February. Now a defense insider says it may not come until March or later because of a Senate probe into the inadvertent release of bidders' information to the competing bidders, Boeing and EADS. EADS North America wants to assemble the plans in Mobile, Ala.

The new head of New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport has scaled back a $755 million modernization plan that was put in place before his arrival. Instead, Aviation Director Iftikhar Ahmad is opting for a $200 million effort he expects will be done in time for New Orleans to host the Super Bowl in two years.

- Vision Airlines announced the expansion of its low-fare air service from Atlanta, Houston and St. Petersburg, Fla., into the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport beginning Feb. 9. Vision Airlines’ service to Gulfport will use Boeing 737s. Earlier, Vision Airlines also announced some 20 new flights using an airport at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., as a hub.

CSC Applied Technologies, Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $24.9 million contract modification which will exercise an option for the Base Operating Support service contract at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., from Feb. 1, 2011 through Jan. 31, 2012. 81 CONS/LGCM, Keesler Air Force Base is the contracting activity. .. Hamilton Sundstrand Corp., Windsor Locks, Conn., is being awarded a $24.6 million contract for procurement and installation of Electronic Propeller Control System kits into the C-130T aircraft for the Navy Reserves and the LC-130H aircraft for the Air Force National Guard. Thirty-five percent of the work will be done in Crestview, Fla., and the rest in Windsor Locks, Conn., and is expected to be completed in December 2013.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: In Mobile, Ala., Austal USA will get $2.5 million from the Mobile County Commission and another $2.5 million from the Mobile City Council as incentive to help the company expand at its Mobile River yard (Brief). … Northrop Grumman's Aegis guided missile destroyer William P. Lawrence, built in Pascagoula, Miss., successfully completed its combined super trial in the Gulf of Mexico (Brief). … Textron Marine & Land Systems in New Orleans will build a sixth 47-foot Motor Lifeboat for the Mexican navy (Brief). Advanced materials: In Hattiesburg, Miss., students from eight high school polymer programs were on hand for the second annual High School Polymer Science Day held at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Shelby Thames Polymer Science Research Center (Brief). … Nylon maker Ascend Performance Materials of Foley, Ala., plans a $7 million expansion that will create 20 jobs (Brief). Marine science: Two research professors from Mississippi State University have joined the leadership team at the Northern Gulf Institute at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Robert J. Moorhead and Donald C. Jackson will serve as director and deputy director, respectively (Brief). Research: Mississippi State University, based in Starkeville, Miss., but with operations on the Gulf Coast, moved up in the latest Carnegie classifications from the "high research activity" to the "very high research activity" category, the highest research category for doctorate-granting universities. The University of South Alabama in Mobile, Ala., and the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Fla., moved up to “high research activity” (Brief). … Mississippi and Louisiana improved their overall ranking in the latest Milken Institute State Science and Technology Index. Louisiana is ranked 45, up one spot from 2008, while Mississippi improved two spots to 48. Alabama is ranked 31, down two spots, and Florida slipped three spots to 40. The study uses 79 indicators to come up with its rankings (Brief). … A new group has been formed at Stennis Space Center, Miss., to focus on intellectual property. It’s called the Gulf Coast Patent Association (Story).