Saturday, April 2, 2011

Week in review (3/27 to 4/2)

No doubt the World Trade Organization ruling during the week on Boeing subsidies was a hot aerospace news item worldwide. But there were other developments of high interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region. Here's a quick rundown: EADS' Eurocopter is buying Canada's Vector Aerospace, Goodrich plans to buy Italy's Microtecnica, there was a shakeup at the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., a new version of the MC-130 Combat Shadow rolled out of a plant in Georgia, and Congress has taken some steps to integrate UAVs in the national air space.

Unmanned aerial systems
The House of Representatives late in the week passed a bill that would go a long way towards allowing unmanned and manned systems to share the national airspace. The House version of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011 includes language that would, among other things, create four test sites to study the ability of unmanned aircraft systems sharing airspace and runways with manned and commercial aircraft.

The bill would require a plan within nine months, and sets a deadline of Sept. 30, 2015 for integration. Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicles International, said unmanned systems "have the potential to revolutionize the aviation and aerospace industry globally," but civilian uses have been hampered by a lack of standards and rules. The bill would help address that.

The Gulf Coast region is heavily involved in unmanned systems. Areas around Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, Miss., and Stennis Space Center, Miss., have certificates of authorization to fly unmanned systems, and unmanned systems are also flown at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Two of the best-known UAVs, the Global Hawk and Fire Scout, are built in part in Moss Point.

The bill still has to be reconciled with the Senate version.

- On the topic of UAVs - or UAS if you prefer - the U.S. Coast Guard doesn't have any unmanned systems in its inventory, but the service is forging ahead with some training, according to the service's unmanned aerial system platform manager.

Navy Times reports that the skeleton of the service's program is taking shape at Aviation Training Center, Mobile, Ala. The Coast Guard has trained three pilots in Mobile to operate the MQ-9 Guardian, a variant of the Air Force's Reaper. The program is in its infancy and there's no training pipeline yet, pending funding. One of the systems the Coast Guard is eyeing is the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. (Full story)

EADS and Boeing
The World Trade Organization reported during the week that Boeing received at least $5.3 billion in improper subsidies from the United States to develop jets, including the 787, giving it an unfair advantage against European rival Airbus.

The European Union claimed research and development grants from the federal government's NASA and Defense Department, including development of carbon composites, contributed to the technologies to build the 787. The ruling is the latest round in a six-year battle between Boeing and Airbus, part of EADS. In a case decided last June, the WTO found that Airbus had benefited from improper subsidies as well.

- In another EADS-related story during the week, Eurocopter, the helicopter unit of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space group, said early in the week that it's buying all the outstanding shares of Canada's Vector Aerospace Corp. The deal for the helicopter overhaul and repair company is valued at $638 million.

Vector Aerospace has an operation at the South Alabama Regional Airport in Andalusia, Ala., which opened in 2008. EADS has a helicopter production facility in Columbus, Miss., and two operations in Mobile, Ala.

- On the subject of purchases, Goodrich Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., plans to buy Italian aerospace control system maker Microtecnica for $462 million. The sale is scheduled to close before the end of June.

Microtecnica, which employs 700 people in Italy and the United Kingdom, makes flight control actuation systems for helicopters, regional and business aircraft and missiles, as well as thermal and environmental control systems. Goodrich employs more than 700 people in Foley, Ala.

Joint Strike Fighter
Col. David A. Hlatky was relieved as commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Maj. Gen. Mark Solo, 19th Air Force commander at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, lost confidence in Hlatky’s ability to command as a result of an investigation following allegations of personal misconduct. Col. Andrew J. Toth assumed command of the wing. He previously served as the executive officer to the commander of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va.

- Faulty maintenance procedures caused the in-flight failure of the engine generators on an F-35, the program office said. Those procedures have now been revised, and the entire fleet of F-35s has been cleared to resume flight operations. The problem was found in a test flight earlier this month in California in an F-35 with an alternate generator configuration. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center.

Lockheed Martin rolled out the first aircraft in a new fleet of MC-130J Combat Shadow IIs for the U.S. Air Force's Special Operations Command during a ceremony in Marietta, Ga. Lockheed Martin is under contract to build 15 MC 130Js to begin replacing the current fleet. The Air Force is authorized to buy up to 20 MC-130Js against an approved requirement for 37. The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command is headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

NASA cut the ribbon on a new cryogenics control center at Mississippi's John C. Stennis Space Center, marking near completion of a project to strengthen protection for liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen barges in the event of a natural disaster.

The new structure consolidates LH and LOX operations and provides a safe shelter for a disaster ride-out crew. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, NASA conducted a study to identify support systems at the site that should be "hardened" to withstand the impacts of future storms.

The study cited the need to provide a safe haven for LH and LOX cryogenic barges needed to perform rocket engine testing at the south Mississippi facility. The project ensures a safe haven for all six LOX and three LH barges at Stennis.

Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $9 million contract for technical support of the use of Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile special test vehicles, special test equipment, and test positions to include AMRAAM modeling and simulation. Work will be done at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. AAC/PKES Eglin is the contracting activity. … EADS North American Defense, Arlington, Va., was awarded a $21.5 million contract to provide for the procurement of four UH-72A light utility helicopters; four airborne radio communication 231 system production cut-in; and one engine inlet barrier filter production cut-in. Work will be done in Columbus, Miss. … Sikorsky Support Services Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded an $84.1 million contract for logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot level maintenance to support 273 T-34, 54 T-44, and 62 T-6 aircraft based at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, NAS Whiting Field, Fla., and NAS Pensacola. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $42.3 million modification to a previously awarded contract for logistics support of 124 TH-57B/TH-57C aircraft. Work will be performed at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Fla., and NAS Patuxent River, Md. … Alliant Techsystems Inc., Plymouth, Minn., was awarded a $35.8 million contract to provide the hard target sensing fuze for use with BLU-109, BLU-113, and BLU-122 warheads and their associated guidance systems. AAC/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. of Pascagoula, Miss., a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, was awarded a $1.5 billion modification to previously awarded contract for the procurement of the detail design and construction of LPD 26, the future USS John P. Murtha, 10th ship in the LPD 17 amphibious transport dock ship class. Most of the work, 83 percent, will be done in Pascagoula, but 1 percent will also be done in New Orleans. … In Mobile, Ala., Austal USA broke ground during the week on a $116 million project to build three new facilities at its Mobile River complex. It will allow the shipbuilder to complete contracts to build joint high-speed vessels and littoral combat ships. Austal employs about 2,000 people in Mobile. … Before Huntington Ingalls became a separate entity, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $28.7 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the procurement of additional long lead time material in support of the LHA replacement flight 0 amphibious assault ship. Most of the work will be done in Philadelphia, nearly 80 percent, but 20 percent will be done in Pascagoula. … Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors, Moorestown, N.J., was awarded a $12 million option for a previously awarded contract for management and engineering services to maintain and modify as necessary the design of DDG 51 class combat system compartments and topside arrangements, in support of the Program Executive Officer Integrated Warfare Systems. Twenty-two percent of the work will be done in Pascagoula.