Saturday, January 15, 2011

Week in review (1/9 to 1/15)

The ongoing debate over the direction of NASA, some good news about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and the arrival of F-16s at Florida's Eglin Air Force Base were among the aerospace news items that came down the pike during the week. There was even something about the tanker project: nobody can yet say when a winner will be announced.

Anyone who closely follows NASA, and we do on the Gulf Coast because of Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, is certainly aware that the fighting is continuing over the direction of NASA.

During the week it became clear that NASA and some senators are in disagreement about the heavy-lift and crew exploration vehicles. The agency said in a report released during the week that it can't build them under the cost, schedule and engineering constraints imposed last fall by Congress.

That prompted a joint statement from U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., David Vitter, R-La., Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, of the Senate Commerce Committee: the production of a heavy-lift rocket and capsule is not optional. The agency has to do it. (Story)

- In a less controversial matter during the week, NASA got a new deputy chief technologist. It's Michael Gazarik, deputy director for programs in the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The announcement was made by NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun. The office is responsible for coordination, integration and tracking of all technology investments across the agency.

- At Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Blade Dynamics, the wind turbine manufacturer, plans to hire 40 salaried, technical operator positions. The positions require a minimum of one-year manufacturing or production experience, performance of industrial math and the ability to work rotating shifts. By 2015 Blade Dynamics plans to have some 600 employees on its payroll with an annual salary of about $48,000.

Joint Strike Fighter
Although the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has had its share of bad news, a report issued during the week by the Pentagon testing office said the jet "slightly exceeded" its flight-test goals last year.

The three variants of the Lockheed Martin aircraft flew a total of 427 test sorties, 37 more than planned. The test program also accomplished 4,614 individual objectives within those flights, or 210 more than planned. Goals were met by the Air Force and Navy version, but not the Marine Corps version. (Story)

Gen. James Amos said he's confident Lockheed Martin will solve problems with the Marine Corps version of the F-35 and save it from cancelation. The short takeoff, vertical landing model of the JSF is being put on probation for two years to fix significant problems. Amos told the annual conference of the Surface Navy Association he supports that decision.

Meanwhile, four F-16s on loan from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., arrive at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., during the week. The planes from the 56th Fighter Wing will be used to support the Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Training Center mission. The aircraft will be used for training prior to the arrival of the F-35s. Eglin already had 17 F-16 Falcons, 10 assigned to the 46th Test Wing and seven to the 53rd. But the training center needed its own planes.

When will the aerial tanker award be announced? Depends on what official you ask.

EADS North America Chief Executive Officer Sean O'Keefe expects it next month, but Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh said he’s not expecting the decision soon. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley declined to give a firm date for the contract award, saying only that the source selection is moving toward completion.

Boeing and EADS are competing for the $35 billion deal to build jets for the U.S. Air Force. Boeing would build them in Washington and Kansas, and EADS would assemble them in Mobile, Ala.

Nearly a month after Vision Airlines started offering service at Northwest Florida Regional Airport, sales have exceeded expectations, according to the marketing and business development director. Vision Airlines offers service to Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Miami, and plans to announce new destinations later this month.

- Florida’s Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and Naval Air Station Pensacola have launched a new Web site highlighting the history of naval aviation in Pensacola. It features a list of local events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of naval aviation. Visitors can log on and share stories and photographs.

- Environmental restoration officials at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., are using a commercial car crusher to "demilitarize" practice bombs prior to recycling. So far, they've recycled more than one million pounds of metal from the BDU 33 and Mark 106 bombs. The crushing operation is part of an agreement between the crushing company, the recyclers and Eglin Air Force Base's contractors, and has resulted in savings of more than $1 million.

Unmanned systems
Northrop Grumman’s Hunter unmanned aircraft, in use with the Army since 1996, recently surpassed 100,000 flight hours in service. The MQ-5B Hunter is currently deployed supporting operations across the globe. The RQ-5A Hunter was the Army’s first fielded unmanned system. The current generation MQ-5Bs are fitted with updated equipment. The Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center, Moss Point, Miss., has done refurbishing work on Hunter aircraft.

McDonnell Douglas Corp., a subsidiary of the Boeing Co. of St. Louis, Mo., was awarded an $88 million contract which will procure 3,500 guided vehicle kits for Joint Direct Attack Munition purposes. AAC/EDBK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. is the contracting activity.