Saturday, June 25, 2011

Week in review (6/19 to 6/25)

During the week in aerospace news of interest to this region, a Fire Scout unmanned helicopter went down over Libya; Pratt and Whitney delivered its first F-35 spare engine to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Fla., got a new leader, as did the Air Force Research Lab Munitions Directorate at Eglin; and a small plane crash at Eglin claimed two lives.

But first, an item that still has some interest for this region: the Air Force tankers.

Boeing Co. expects to exceed its cost ceiling by as much as $300 million, about 6 percent, on the initial contract to develop and build Air Force aerial refueling tankers. That’s according to government officials as reported by Bloomberg. (Story)

The $300 million projection was obtained by Bloomberg News from government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. Boeing spokesman Bill Barksdale confirmed the company projects it will exceed the $4.9 billion ceiling and is prepared to absorb the extra costs.

Boeing in February beat out EADS for the contract. EADS had planned to establish a $600 million aircraft assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., if it won the contract.

Unmanned systems
A Northrop Grumman-built Fire Scout was lost over the central coastal area of Libya while conducting surveillance operations, according to NATO officials. The MQ-8B lost contact with ground controllers Tuesday. The Fire Scout, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., is equipped with cameras and sensors and was monitoring pro-Kadafi forces when it was lost. The cause of the crash is not known.

- U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn said the U.S. will maintain its lead in unmanned robotic technology in the face of a $400 billion reduction in defense spending. Lynn said during the Paris Air Show that robotics and unmanned technology "is a key future" for the U.S. military. The U.S. will also seek to maintain a lead in cyber security and the capability to strike long-range targets, he said in a briefing. Both unmanned systems and cyber security are of high interest to the Gulf Coast region.

An Aerojet AJ26 engine that will power the Orbital Sciences Corp. Taurus II launch vehicle was badly damaged in a fuel fire June 9 at Stennis Space Center, Miss. NASA is counting on the Taurus II/Cygnus and the Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9/Dragon combinations to help resupply the International Space Station when the space shuttle fleet retires after the upcoming final flight of shuttle Atlantis.

The AJ26 engine shut down prematurely after a fuel leak developed during a hot-fire acceptance test, and the leaking kerosene fuel ignited. The test stand at Stennis Space Center suffered only minor damage. A team of experts from Aerojet, Orbital and NASA is investigating the cause of the mishap and the extent of the damage to the engine.

Pratt and Whitney has delivered the first F135 spare engine to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to support F-35 Lightning II training operations to begin this summer. Eglin's 33rd Fighter Wing is a joint unit with Air Force, Navy and Marine squadrons that will conduct F-35 training for their respective services as well as the eight F-35 program international partners. Lockheed Martin is scheduled to deliver the first F-35A aircraft to Eglin in the coming weeks. Pratt & Whitney is a United Technologies Corp. company.

- Lockheed Martin has a new website for the F-35 Lightning II aircraft. The site provides the most up-to-date information on the F-35 program, including history, program updates, news, photos and videos. Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Pratt & Whitney’s F135 propulsion system powers all F-35 variants. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center.

Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel took over leadership of the Air Force Special Operations Command on Friday from the retiring Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz presided over the ceremony at the Freedom Hangar at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Wurster took command of AFSOC in November 2007. Fiel comes to Hurlburt after serving as vice commander at the U.S. Special Operations Command in Washington, D.C.

- More than 100 people gathered Friday at the 33rd Fighter Wing Memorial at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to honor those killed in the 1996 attack at Khobar Towers at Dharan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. The attach was on the evening of June 25, 1996. Just before 10 p.m., a car bomb exploded at the tower were members of Eglin’s 33rd Fighter Wing were wrapping up a three-month deployment. The blast killed 19 airmen and wounded 105. Twelve of the men who died were members of the 33rd. A total of seven airmen from Patrick, Offutt and Wright-Patterson air force bases also were killed.

- The two victims of that plane crash at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., have been identified. They are Col. (ret.) David A. Miles of Shalimar, Fla., and Thomas E. Lewis of Apalachicola, Fla. The Aero Club Beechcraft crashed around 4:30 a.m. into a grassy area next to the 46th Test Wing side of the runway at Eglin. The plane was owned by Eglin Air Force Base and rented to pilot through the base's Aero Club.

- The Air Force Research Laboratory's Munitions Directorate had a change of command ceremony. Col. Kenneth L. Echternacht, Jr., relinquished his position as commander to Dr. John Wilcox. AFRL Munitions Directorate performs research on precision guidance, missile guidance and control, computational mechanics, smart sub-munitions, warheads, and explosives.

Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $7.3 million contract for the High Speed Anti Radiation Missile Targeting System software upgrade two risk reduction study. AAC/EBAS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $36 million contract to provide for M982 Excalibur 155mm precision engagement projectiles. Some of the work will be done in Niceville, Fla.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors, Moorestown, N.J., was awarded a $7.7 million modification to 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 program executive officer Integrated Warfare Systems. Twenty-two percent of the work will be done in Pascagoula, Miss. … VT Halter Marine plans to diversify and expand its Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard with the addition of a floating dry dock that will let it begin repairing semi-submersible drilling rigs and new Panamax-sized ships. The board of directors still has to give final approval. … A littoral combat ship built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., will have to be dry-docked to remove water jets that have suffered corrosion. In February, the Navy found another ship in the series, this one built in Wisconsin by a team led by Lockheed Martin, had developed a crack through the hull.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Week in review (6/12 to 6/18)

The International Paris Air Show gets under way Monday at Le Bourget Airport, and economic development officials from across the Gulf Coast will be attending. The show in 2009 attracted 140,000 professional visitors and 200,000 visitors from the general public.

There are teams from Northwest Florida, Alabama and South Mississippi attending. They go to the show because companies from across the globe go to the event, and economic development officials can meet with a lot of companies in a very compressed time.

The show is the oldest and largest air show. It's held every other year at Le Bourget Airport and is designed to let aerospace companies show their products to military and commercial buyers.

This year's show is June 20-23 for professional visitors, and from June 24-26 for the general public. In 2009 the show attracted 2,000 exhibitors from 50 countries and 3,000 journalists from around the world.

If you're interested in learning more about the aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast region, you might want to download a free PDF version of the 88-page Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor 2011-2012. You can also buy a printed version if you’re so inclined, at cost from a print-on-demand service,

There's also a book available that focuses on the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s aerospace activities. The 52-page, sixth annual edition of Mississippi Gulf Coast Aerospace 2011-2012 can be downloaded for free, or you can also purchase at-cost a printed version from the same print-on-demand service.

NASA's new J-2X rocket engine, which could power the upper stage of a future heavy-lift launch vehicle, is ready for its first round of testing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, Miss.

The fully assembled engine was installed last weekend in the A-2 Test Stand, originally used to test Saturn V rockets for the Apollo Program. The engine will undergo a series of 10 test firings that will last several months.

The test stand, which supported the space shuttle main engine project, has been modified for the J-2X's different shape. In addition to the structural, electrical and plumbing modifications, a new engine start system was installed and control systems were upgraded on the stand. The liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen transfer lines that dated back to the 1960s were replaced. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne designed and built the J-2X for NASA.

Nearly a month after the unsafe performance of a maneuver led to the grounding of the Navy’s Blue Angels and a change in command, the team performs again this weekend at the Quad-City Air Show in Davenport, Iowa.

The grounding was prompted by a maneuver where the F/A 18 Hornets passed too close to the ground. The team is now under the command of Capt. Greg McWherter, who commanded the group from November 2008 to November 2010. The team is based at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.

- The Air Force Research Laboratory's Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will have a change of command ceremony Monday afternoon at the Air Armament Museum.

Col. Kenneth L. Echternacht, Jr., will relinquish his position as commander, AFRL, to Dr. John Wilcox. Maj. Gen.William McCasland, Commander, Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, will officiate. AFRL Munitions Directorate performs research on precision guidance, missile guidance and control, computational mechanics, smart sub-munitions, warheads, and explosives.

- Northwest Florida Regional Airport reported a record-setting May passenger count. The total number of commercial passengers topped 111,550, far exceeding any previous monthly traffic level, according to airport Director Greg Donovan. The increase, 57.2 percent over May 2010, was due largely to the new air service by Vision Airlines, Donovan noted. The airport is located at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

A satellite office for Capital Avionics will open at Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Fla., during the week. It’s the first step in moving the entire business to Okaloosa County from Tallahassee. Capital Avionics employs 15 people, but Larry Sassano, president of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, said it is an important one for the area. Capital Avionics creates custom-designed testing equipment for companies in the aviation field, and the company already has clients in Okaloosa County.

Owner Al Ingle said he expects to hire four employees for the Okaloosa County branch. He then plans to build a new 15,500-square-foot hangar and 12,000-square-foot component repair and equipment testing facility at Bob Sikes and move the remaining Capital Avionics employees once that is completed.

The Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival is underway this weekend in Foley, Ala. It’s the event’s seventh year. The festival is held at the Foley Soccer Field on U.S. 98, and includes arts and crafts vendors, food tents, music and other attractions. The festival attracts about 60,000 visitors a year, according to organizers. Counts for the 2011 celebration were not available.

BAE Systems Technology Solutions and Services Inc., Rockville, Md., was awarded a $33.3 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to exercise an option for engineering and technical services and supplies for the design, development, integration, test and evaluation, maintenance and logistics support of communication-electronic platform, equipment, systems and subsystems in support of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division's Special Communications Requirements Division. Two percent of the work will be done in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. … EADS North American Defense, Arlington, Va., was awarded a $74.4 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide 14 light utility helicopters and 14 airborne radio communication systems. Work will be performed in Columbus, Miss., with an estimated completion date of Aug. 31, 2012. … Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, Orlando, Fla., was awarded a not-to-exceed $100,000,000 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to provide technical support for the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. Air Armament Center/EBJK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Week in review (6/5 to 6/11)

There were reports during the week that Air Force testers found the Global Hawk Block 20/30 unmanned aerial system unable to completely and reliably perform the imagery and signals intelligence collection missions for which it's designed.

That information comes from the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation report resulting from tests conducted last October through December. Those reports usually consider a system either effective or not effective, but not this one. Maj. Gen. David Eichorn, who heads the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center in New Mexico, told Aviation Week he was more comfortable with the "shade of gray" in this case because Global Hawk provides valuable service, but doesn't do some things well. (Story)

The Hill called the report "scathing," saying the report found that the drones provided only about 40 percent of "requested intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance coverage when used at low operational tempos." But that story also pointed out that Predator/Reaper UAV faced serious criticism from testers early on and is now considered very effective. (Story)

George Guerra, vice president for High Altitude Long Endurance programs for Northrop aerospace systems, said that since the report the company has worked with the Air Force to make improvements. The Pentagon weapons test report provided "an assessment of the system at a snapshot in time which was at the end of last year," Guerra told Reuters. "Since then, we've incorporated some of those improvements and we saw that the system performed quite well over Japan and Libya.” (Story)

Fuselage work for the Global Hawk is done in Moss Point, Miss., at the Unmanned Systems Center.

An Aerojet AJ26 engine, the propulsion system for one of NASA's commercial space-cargo haulers, shut down early in a test firing at the Stennis Space Center, Miss. The test was done Thursday on the E-1 Test Stand.

The AJ26 is the main engine for Orbital Science Corp.'s Taurus 2 rocket, which will launch the company's Cygnus capsule for commercial resupply missions to the international space station. Orbital and Aerojet are investigating the cause, and Stennis will perform checkouts to the facility to ensure its operational integrity. Three AJ26 have been successfully test fired to date.

- The launch of the 135th and final space shuttle mission, now slated for July 8, will mean the elimination of most of the 300 remaining Michoud Assembly Facility jobs connected to work on the project's external tanks. But the announcement two weeks ago that NASA is moving forward with the Orion project means continued space-related work at Michoud, though a small fraction of the numbers employed for the space shuttle program, according to a story in the New Orleans Times Picayune. (Story)

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics says it's days away from sending Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the first of 59 Joint Strike Fighters. That's according to Mike Rein, a spokesman for the company, who thinks it will happen this month, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. Six jets are slated for delivery by the end of the fiscal year, Rein said. Eglin is home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center. The first pilots who will train on the F-35 will be instructors. (Story)

Lockheed Martin's Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) tri-mode seeker successfully acquired and tracked multiple moving maritime vessels during recent high-speed, captive flight tests. The tests were in the Gulf of Mexico off the shore of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., against multiple maritime targets, including a Revenge Advanced Composites (RAC), low-signature, high-speed patrol craft.

The RAC performed a series of evasive maneuvers against the JAGM mounted in the nose section of a Sabreliner Series 60 jet aircraft. JAGM is the next-generation air-to-surface guided missile that is being competed as the replacement for the currently fielded Airborne TOW, Maverick and HELLFIRE missiles for the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: Arkansas-based Taber Extrusions will build components for a littoral combat ship and joint high-speed vessel built by Mobile's Austal USA. The work will be done at Taber’s two manufacturing facilities, one in Gulfport, Miss., the other in Russellville, Ark. Austal will use Taber extrusions for decking, superstructure and bulkheads. … A union is getting a third shot to enlist workers at Austal USA’s Mobile River shipyard, and an election could come as soon as late July, according to a lawyer representing Local 441 of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

Marine science: The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System - Regional Association of College Station Texas will receive a Gulf Guardian Award for 2011 in the partnership category. The awards ceremony will be in conjunction with the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Meeting Aug. 3 in New Orleans.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Week in review (5/29 to 6/4)

Regular readers certainly know that the Gulf Coast region has a lot of aerospace activity in a wide range of fields. Now there's a book that puts it all in focus.

Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor 2011-2012, which became available June 1, highlights the activities in the region between New Orleans and Northwest Florida. It was written by four veteran journalists, including me.

The book has an executive summary and a chapter about the variety of lifestyles available in the Gulf Coast region. There are chapters on foreign investments in the region, space activities, research and development, unmanned systems and robotics, military aviation and education and workforce issues.

The book or individual chapters can be downloaded at the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor Web site. The downloads are free, thanks to the support of three underwriters: the Aerospace Alliance, Gulf Coast Regional Chamber Coalition and Mississippi Enterprise for Technology.

But if you're one of those folks who still prefer holding a book in your hand, you can order a printed version with a glossy cover from the print-on-demand service The books are available at cost, and you can buy one or more. The shipping method is up to you.

So take a look, and I’d love to hear your comments.

Also coming in the next couple of weeks is the sixth edition of Mississippi Gulf Coast Aerospace. The book details aerospace activities in South Mississippi. That's the book that led the authors to venture into doing something about the broader region. The Mississippi book is sponsored by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic Development, and a free download of the new edition will be available at the group's aerospace Web site. A print edition will also be available.

The federal government is sending nearly $3.2 million to three southwest Alabama airports, including Mobile Regional Airport in Mobile, Ala. The money for safety and infrastructure improvements was announced during the week by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. Mobile will get $1.8 million from the Federal Aviation Administration.

- Vector Aerospace held a groundbreaking ceremony in Andalusia, Ala., Wednesday for a new facility that will bring an estimated 125 jobs to Covington County. Gov. Robert Bentley and ADO Director Seth Hammett were among those attending the event. Vector, a Canadian-based helicopter repair company, currently employs 150 people. The expansion will allow the company to nearly double the number of employees and the amount of workspace at the South Alabama Regional Airport in Andalusia.

- Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, Miss., now equipped with a control tower and fire station, plans to go after a military contract that could increase its revenue by 25 percent. Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard planes already use the airport’s one runway for touch-and-gos, but they can’t stop or refuel because the airport doesn’t have a military fuel contract. Carol Snapp, airport director, said they have begun the process to acquire one.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: Huntington Ingalls Industries, Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a contract modification in an amount not-to-exceed $25,300,000 to previously awarded contract for long lead time material for DDG 113. Forty percent of the work will be done in Pascagoula.

Marine science: The chemical sprayed in the Gulf to break up the BP oil spill may not have been effective and could be damaging the ecosystem, according to preliminary findings by University of West Florida researchers. BP dumped nearly 2 million gallons of the dispersant in the Gulf, which saw more than 172 million gallons of oil leak into the water in the wake of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion.