Saturday, February 12, 2011

Week in review (2/6 to 2/12)

As expected, both companies competing to build aerial tankers for the U.S. Air Force submitted at the end of the week their best and final proposals to the Air Force. Boeing is offering a variation of its 767 and EADS North America offering a modified A330.

The project to replace the tankers is an Air Force priority. Air Force Gen. Duncan McNabb, who heads the Pentagon's Transportation Command, said early in the week that a new tanker would help cut the fuel bill sharply.

Boeing would build its version in Washington and Kansas, and EADS would assemble its aircraft at a planned plant at the Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala. The project to build the 179 planes is valued at $35 billion to $50 billion. But the subtext of all this is that an EADS win would be a significant addition to the Gulf Coast's already considerable aerospace activities.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon's watchdog agency said it will respond "as soon as possible" to a request by seven senators to investigate whether a data mix-up could mar the tanker competition. The Air Force insists the mix-up last November involved no pricing data that could comprise the process.

- Brazil’s Embraer is moving forward on its long-standing wish to establish a production plant in the United States. The company is opening a final assembly plant for business jets in Melborne, Fla., and later this year it will open a customer design center. But that's not all that's in the works for the Brazilian company.

Last month, Embraer said it was teaming with U.S. contractor Sierra Nevada to build Super Tucanos in Jacksonville, Fla., should the Air Force select the Brazilian light attack training over the Hawker Beechcraft/Lockheed Martin AT-6. That contract is expected to be awarded in June. Embraer, like European aircraft makers, wants to play a bigger role in the world's largest aircraft market. (Story)

A 52-second test of an Aerojet AJ26 rocket engine Monday went without a hitch at Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center. Executives from NASA, Aerojet and Orbital Sciences Corp. were on hand for the flight acceptance test of the AJ26, which will be the Stage 1 engine for Orbital's Taurus II space launch vehicle. NASA formed a $1.9 billion contract with Orbital to launch eight cargo missions to the International Space Station through 2015. The Aerojet AJ26, originally made in Russia 50 years ago, was tested at the E-1 test stand at Stennis, which had to be adapted to fire the engine in the vertical position.

- Lockheed Martin shipped out the first Orion crew module Thursday from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. It's bound for Lockheed's Denver, Colo., facilities, where it will be integrated with a heat shield and thermal protection backshell, then tested to confirm Orion's ability to safely fly astronauts through deep space missions. It will later undergo simulated water landings at Langley's Hydro Impact Basin in Hampton, Va. This Orion ground test vehicle has already validated advanced production processes, equipment and tools required to manufacture the Orion crew module space flight hardware.

Unmanned systems
The Navy's Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., will be busy this year. It will be looking for pirates in the Middle East and gathering intelligence for troops in Afghanistan, according to a report in Aviation Week.

Three aircraft and two ground control stations will participate in the Afghanistan deployment. Builder Northrop Grumman will operate and maintain the system under the guidance of Navy officers. Two Fire Scouts are also aboard the U.S. frigate Halyburton, which sailed to Southwest Asia in early January.

A Fire Scout was recently credited with a humanitarian save when it spotted a wayward boat and hovered until help arrived. The Navy will determine Fire Scout's suitability after operational evaluation in October. A full-rate production decisions would follow. The Navy plans to buy 168 Fire Scouts.

More missions at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will add to highway congestion around the base in Northwest Florida. That's according to the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board. The report looked at Eglin and five other large bases that are expanding as a result of the base realignment plan. Eglin was chosen as the new home of the Army 7th Special Forces Group and the Joint Strike Fighter training center. The 7th SF will bring more than 6,000 people and the JSF center about 4,900. The report urges Congress to consider a special appropriation of federal stimulus money to pay for near-term improvements.

- Officials with Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport are asking Congress to increase a passenger fee and are seeking support from Gulfport, Biloxi and Harrison County. The airport authority wants to increase the Passenger Facility Charge from $4.50 to $7 per passenger in order to pay its debt. The fee hasn't been raised since 2000.

BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services Inc. of Rockville, Md. was awarded a $15.7 million contract modification to procure 9-QF-4 full scale aerial targets. AAC/EBYK at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. is the contracting activity. … Boeing Co. of St Louis, Mo., was awarded a contract modification not-to-exceed $15.1 million for additional Massive Ordnance Penetrator Integration to include flight test support, three additional test assets, an alternative/modified fuse design and sixteen fuses. AAC/EBDK/EBDJ – MOP Tiger Team at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. is the contracting activity. … Boeing Co. was awarded a $23.1 million contract modification which will procure various test assets and hardware for aircraft integration efforts for the F-16 Block 40/50, F-22, F-35, and the Small Diameter Bomb Increment I programs. AAC/EBMK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. is the contracting activity.