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.