Saturday, July 30, 2011

Week in review (7/24 to 7/30)

The numbers are pretty significant: a $56 million investment, 300,000 square-foot plant and 250 jobs. But the importance of GE Aviation's decision to open a manufacturing plant in Southeast Mississippi's Ellisville goes well beyond those numbers.

The plant is the second one GE Aviation is establishing in Mississippi. It opened its first one in Batesville in 2008, which now has 300 workers who make composite parts for aircraft engines. That experience likely opened the door to having this second facility.

The decision also underscores the import role universities play in economic development. The GE Aviation plant will build composite components, such as fan blades, for aircraft engines The high performance materials were developed in collaboration with the University of Southern Mississippi's School of Polymers and High Performance Materials. The company will continue to collaborate with Southern Miss.

"We're on the road, on the right path, and this is only the beginning," said Shelby Thames, who founded the university's polymer program in the 1970s and is a distinguished research professor. "It's a team effort for Southern Miss, but (polymers) were the folks that had promoted the composite concept, realizing that they would be the new material of the future." (Story)

What's more, GE Aviation also has ties to the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory at Mississippi State University in Starkville, and the Center for Manufacturing Excellence at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

The 300,000 square-foot Ellisville facility will be at Howard Technology Park. Ground will be broken by the end of the year, and it's expected to begin production in 2013, creating about 250 jobs by 2016.

GE Aviation is investing $56 million, and will receive tax abatements for the facility. The county, city and the Economic Development Authority of Jones County provided 43 acres in the industrial park and will do the site and infrastructure preparation work. GE also will be able to take advantage of the state's Aerospace Initiative Incentives program, which provides tax breaks for companies manufacturing or assembling components for the industry.

South Mississippi is already a key region for work on aircraft and spacecraft engines, and this adds another crucial element to the mix. At NASA's John C Stennis Space Center, NASA and commercial companies test and assemble many of the engines that power spacecraft. It's also where Rolls-Royce tests its huge aircraft engines.

In another first for the new Joint Strike Fighter, an F-35C test aircraft, designated CF-3, was launched by a land-based steam catapult during a test during the week in Lakehurst, N.J.

The F-35C carrier variant of the JSF has larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear that make it different from the Air Force A version or the Marine Corps B variant. The F-35C is undergoing test and evaluation at Naval Air Station Patuxent River prior to delivery to the fleet. Initial ship trials are scheduled for 2013.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the JSF training center.

Work was halted during the week on the nearly completed air traffic control tower at Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration told contractors to stop work on the nearly $12 million project in Gulfport and others at airports nationwide after Congress failed to pass legislation for the work to continue. The current control tower is handling flights.

The Department of Defense during the week launched a new website to highlight DoD's unified strategy for cyberspace, announced on July 14. The website helps explain and consolidate DoD's cybersecurity accomplishments and new way forward for military, intelligence and business operations in cyberspace.

The site is designed to help users explore the five pillars of DoD's cyber strategy: treating cyberspace as an operational domain; employing new defense operating concepts; partnering with the public and private sector; building international partnerships; and leveraging talent and innovation.

The Gulf Coast has multiple DoD cyber training operations, including Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Corry Station, Fla., and Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $32.5 million contract modification to provide additional aircraft closure redesign. The AAC/EDBK/EDBJ, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Co., Missile Systems Division, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $70 million contract to provide Small Diameter Bomb II technical support. AAC/EBMK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … EADS North American Defense, Arlington, Va., was awarded a $10.2 million contract, a modification of an existing contract, to provide logistic support coverage for the UH-72A aircraft. Work will be performed in Columbus, Miss., with an estimated completion date of Dec. 31, 2011.

Tidbits from other fields
Marine science: Oil-eating bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico devoured crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead last year, researcher Terry Hazen said during the University of Southern Mississippi's distinguished lecture series. Hazen, co-director of the Virtual Institute for Microbial Stress and Survival at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a team of 50 scientists studied the spill from May 25 to Oct. 20, 2010 and found that that 45 percent of the light crude evaporated in a week, then bacteria acted like "oil-seeking missiles" and feasted on the oil. But he warned that does not give a free pass to oil companies.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Week in review (7/17 to 7/23)

The arrival of the second F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and the first Euro Hawk in Germany, the successful final flight of the space shuttle, the announcement of a new aerospace startup in Mobile, Ala., and a change of command were among the stories of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region during the week.

But one of the most significant news items during the week was the decision by American Airlines to order 200 Boeing 737s and 260 Airbus A320s for its fleet. It may be the opening salvo of a stream of new orders for more efficient jets, and that may cause EADS to dust off plans for a new assembly facility in Mobile, Ala.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline is ordering 460 new single-aisle planes from U.S.-based Boeing and Europe's Airbus in a deal valued at more than $38 billion. It includes options and purchase rights for 465 additional planes through 2025.

Airbus has not sold new planes to American Airlines in more than two decades. The company retired its last Airbus in 2009. So for Airbus, the order is a significant coup for the company that each year buys components worth $10 billion from U.S. suppliers.

Industry analysts think Airbus may have to raise production rates on its A320 family line to as many as 60 aircraft a month in the second half of the decade if more major orders come in. Airbus can't achieve that by expanding its Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; or Tianjin, China lines. That would open the door to a U.S.-based final assembly line late in the decade. (Story)

The obvious choice for such a plant would be Mobile, where EADS planned to assemble military tankers and A330 freighters had it won the hotly contested Air Force contract. EADS already does business in Mobile; Airbus employs 150 at an engineering center in Brookley Aeroplex, and Airbus military operates an aircraft maintenance and training facility for the U.S. Coast Guard at Mobile Regional Airport.

Ralph Crosby, chairman of EADS North America, has said in the past that the company "could have made no better choice" than to come to the Gulf Coast. "The partnerships we've formed are real and they are enduring ... The fact is, as far as EADS is concerned, Mobile is at the top of the list for any commercial production we might establish in America."

We'll keep an eye out as this story develops in the coming months and years.

While on the topic of Mobile, AeroStar Inc., a startup located at the Brookley Aeroplex, plans to repair and overhaul hydraulic and pneumatic airplane components. The company is led by a former sales executive for Fokker Airinc, a components repair firm in Fairhope, Ala. The company wants to employ 10 people by the end of the year. The 8,000 square-foot building that AeroStar renovated on the south end of Michigan Avenue could hold up to 25 employees.

Space shuttle Atlantis landed safely at Florida's Kennedy Space Center early Thursday. The 135th flight marked the end of three decades of service. The shuttle and its four crew members touched down at 5:56 a.m. after a 13-day mission to the International Space Station. All shuttle main engines were tested at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and the external fuel tanks were built at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

Unmanned systems
The Euro Hawk unmanned aerial system, built in part in Mississippi, was delivered to the German Bundeswehr late in the week. The signals intelligence aircraft is based on the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk. It took off Wednesday from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for the flight to Manching Air Base, Germany.

The Euro Hawk will carry a new SIGINT mission system developed by EADS Deutschland, which will be integrated in Manching. Delivery of the first demonstrator to the Bundeswehr is scheduled for mid-2012, with another four systems scheduled tentatively between 2015 and 2017.

Euro Hawk is the first international version of the RQ-4, which has been serving the U.S. military for a number of years. The second international version will be NATO’s AGS. The Euro Hawk was built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

Lockheed Martin's second F-35A Lightning II production jet arrived during the week at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., less than a week after delivery of the first jet to the base in Northwest Florida. Marine Corps Maj. Joseph T. "OD" Bachmann piloted the aircraft, known as AF-8, arriving at 11:50 a.m. CDT.

AF-8 joins AF-9, which Lockheed Martin delivered to the 33rd Fighter Wing the previous week after a flight from Fort Worth, Texas. The jets will be used for training F-35 pilots and maintainers who are slated to begin course work at the base's new F-35 Integrated Training Center this fall.

The 46th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., had a change of command late in the week. Col. Colin Miller took command from Col. Michael Brewer. Miller has served as an operational pilot in the F-15C and F-117, and as a test pilot in the F-15C, F-15E, F-16, and F-22. Brewer relinquished command after serving two years with the 46th Test Wing and more than 25 years with the Air Force.

- The 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will have a change of command July 26. Col. David Hicks will take command of the wing from Col. Michael Gantt at 8:53 a.m. in Hangar 102. The 53rd Wing serves as the focal point for the Combat Air Forces in electronic warfare, armament and avionics, chemical defense, reconnaissance, and aircrew training devices. The wing is also responsible for operational testing and evaluation of new equipment and systems.

- Three regional airports in Mississippi - Greenville, Tupelo and Hattiesburg - are among 24 small markets that face losing service from Delta Air Lines. The company said it's lost $14 million a year serving the 24 airports because of insufficient passenger loads.

Service to 16 of the 24 airports is subsidized by the federal Essential Air Service program. Weak demand in some markets led to flights occasionally operating with no passengers on board. Greenville has a 27.6 percent load factor, Tupelo 41 percent and Hattiesburg has a 53.7 percent. The Department of Transportation is now looking for alternative carriers.

- Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport has received this year's Florida Department of Transportation Airport Project of the Year Award. The award was handed out at the annual conference of the Florida Airport Council.

It recognized the project for its "significant contribution to airport development, sustainability, efficiency, capacity and/or safety," according to the award nomination criteria. The airport near West Bay opened May 23, 2010, to replace the smaller airport in Panama City.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: General Dynamics - Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, was awarded a $10 million cost-plus-award-fee modification to existing previously awarded basic ordering agreement to provide engineering and management services for advance planning and design in support of the post shakedown availability for USS Independence (LCS 2). Eight percent of the work will be done in Mobile, Ala. … New ship construction will be returning to the site of the former Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Co., officials with BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards said. The company said it will partner with Netherlands-based IHC Merwede to build offshore oil vessels at BAE's yards in Jacksonville, Fla., and Mobile. BAE has about 800 workers at its Mobile yard now, but could grow by 400 in the coming years because of the agreement.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Week in review (7/10 to 7/16)

The arrival of the first F-35 Lightning at Eglin Air Force Base, a test of the new generation J-2X rocket engine at Stennis Space Center and more money for Pensacola's National Flight Academy were among the news items during the week in the Gulf Coast aerospace region.

Late in the week, the first F-35 Lightning II that will be used by the Integrated Training Center landed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., after a 90-minute flight from Fort Worth, Texas. The plane, known as AF-9, is a conventional takeoff and landing version of the fifth generation fighter built by Lockheed Martin and its industry partners.

The plane is one of six that will be assigned to the base in coming months. Eventually, Eglin will have 59 of the F-35s. They'll be used by the 33rd Fighter Wing to train pilots and maintainers from all branches of the military, as well as allied nations.

The Eglin plane is the third production model delivered to the Air Force. The first two are assigned to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Even before the arrival of the new plane, the commander of the 96th Air Base Wing at Eglin recently reflected on his first year heading up the wing that provides support for the base. "Eglin has an extremely bright future," said Col. Sal Nodjomian, who has been at the helm during a period of growth for the base. "We will continue to integrate research, developmental and operational test, training and many other significant mission sets at Eglin."

While on the topic of Eglin, the base was named Department of Defense Installation of the Year by the Association of Defense Communities. According to ADC, Eglin has forged partnerships with local governments and nonprofits to protect natural resources, enhance wildlife corridors and expand opportunities for biodiversity, while at the same time preserving its mission.

Eglin is home to 19 federal and 95 state listed, rare or local endemic species, and officials place a high priority on conserving natural resources. The base occupies much of the Florida panhandle, controlling 120,000 square miles of airspace over the Florida Gulf and providing a unique atmosphere for threatened and endangered species. The Defense Community Awards lunch is at the ADC 2011 Annual Conference in Norfolk on July 19.

- Air Force simulation experts at Eglin Air Force Base are reaching out to industry to find companies able to develop simulations to help the Air Force evaluate concepts for new weapons. The Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate at Eglin issued a sources-sought notice Tuesday for the Technology Research for Integrated Guidance Simulation (TRIGS) program.

The Air Force expects to negotiate one five-year indefinite delivery indefinite quantity research contract for the TRIGS weapons simulation program worth about $45 million.

- Brig. Gen. Leonard Patrick, current commander of the 502nd Air Base Wing at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, will become the new leader of the 2nd Air Force during a change of command July 21 at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Patrick replaces Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog, who is going to the Pentagon to direct the Sexual Assault and Response Office for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

NASA conducted a combined chill test and 1.9-second ignition test Thursday of the next-generation J-2X rocket engine that could help carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit to deep space. The test at the A-2 Test Stand was the first in a series that will be conducted over the next several months on the J-2X, which is being developed by Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne. Collected data will verify the engine functions as designed.

The J-2X uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel, which can be mixed to generate 294,000 pounds of thrust to lift a spacecraft into low-Earth orbit or 242,000 pounds of thrust to power a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit into deep space. The engine is designed to start and restart in space.

- StenniSphere, the visitor center at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, will delay opening on July 20 due to a special event. The visitor center will open at noon that day. StenniSphere is open to the public 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, and is closed on major holidays.

The University of Florida pledged $125,000 to the National Flight Academy at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., an amount matched by an anonymous Florida Gator booster. The $250,000 will be used for scholarships and tuition to the academy, which is expected to open to students in May 2012.

The academy, an educational program of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, will offer week-long sessions to students in seventh through 12th grades. Students will focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

The National Flight Academy is one of several learning centers that are being developed in the Gulf Coast region. Near the Louisiana and Mississippi state line, work is continuing on the Infinity Science Center, which will highlight science and technology activities at NASA's nearby Stennis Space Center, Miss., and in Mobile, Ala., work is continuing on the GulfQuest center, which will highlight maritime activities.

Raytheon Co., Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $9.1 million contract modification for procurement of 4 Griffin Block II A telemetry rounds, part number 2292000-25, and 74 Griffin Block II A all up rounds to include shipping, engineering services, and proposal development costs. AAC/PKES, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. is the contracting activity.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: The next Freedom-class littoral combat ship will be named the USS Little Rock. The monohull Little Rock will be 378 feet long and built in Marinette, Wis., by a Lockheed Martin team. The other class of LCS, the Independence class, is an aluminum trimaran built in Mobile, Ala., by Austal USA. … Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $98.6 million modification to previously awarded contract for advance procurement of long-lead-time materials in support of LPD 27, the 11th ship of the LPD class. Work will be done in Pascagoula and is expected to be completed by January 2012. … Northrop Grumman said it would save the government some $600 million by divesting its shipbuilding operation and closing the Avondale, La., shipyard. But the Pentagon’s audit agency concluded it can’t verify the claim. The spinoff company, Huntington Ingalls, is now in operation, but the yard in Avondale won’t be closing until 2013. … The Navy put a rear admiral in charge of a new office overseeing the entire littoral combat ship program, a change from the previous division between building the vessels and the mission modules.
Advanced materials: Gulf Coast-area science and math teachers during the week learned new lessons and recharged their professional enthusiasm at Office of Naval Research-funded five-day summer camps that wrapped up July 15 at John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss. The program trained middle and high school teachers in physics and materials science, electronic engineering, chemistry and polymer science.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Week in review (7/3 to 7/9)

Space Shuttle Atlantis and four astronauts launched Friday on NASA's last space shuttle voyage. The shuttle lifted off at 11:29 a.m. for the 135th shuttle mission. The crowd of spectators was estimated at nearly 1 million.

At Stennis Space Center, Miss., which tested all the space shuttle main engines, visitors saw the launch on a large screen in the auditorium. More than 300 people were in attendance.

Atlantis' crew will deliver a year's worth of critical supplies to the International Space Station and return with as much trash as possible. The spaceship is scheduled to come home July 20 after 12 days in orbit.

Eglin Air Force Base's first two F-35 Joint Strike Fighters have completed test flights and are in their final review to be accepted by the Department of Defense. Representatives from Lockheed Martin said last month that the first F-35s would arrive in June.

They now say AF-8 and AF-9, the Florida base's first two JSFs, will "arrive shortly" but provided no time frame. Lockheed Martin is expected to deliver six F-35s to Eglin this fiscal year. The other four jets are in various stages of development, including some still on the production line. Lockheed Martin plans a ceremony for sometime in August after the first jets arrive.

Pre-engineering students at two high schools in Baldwin County, Ala., will get a chance to participate in a new aerospace curriculum this fall.

Baldwin County High School and Foley High School are among four schools in Alabama to offer courses as part of the "Preparation for Tomorrow" aerospace engineering pilot program. The Alabama Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education section and the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board last fall designed the aerospace curriculum to prepare high school students for aerospace technology and engineering careers.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: The Austal USA-built USS Independence is one of the characters in the cartoon movie "Cars 2." In the movie, the unnamed ship character has just a few scenes. Early on it's seen guarding the villain's offshore oil platform lair and then chasing after one of the movie's heroes.

Command changes: Capt. Rick Burgess relieved Capt. Lou Cariello as commanding officer of the Naval Construction Battalion Center and 20th Seabee Readiness Group in Gulfport, Miss., during a ceremony Friday. Burgess leads more than 4,900 active duty personnel and more than 900 civilians permanently stationed at the Seabee base. … Capt. Paul Oosterling assumed command of the Naval Oceanographic Office during a ceremony Friday at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Oosterling replaced Capt. Brian Brown, who will transfer to Washington to serve as Executive Assistant to the Oceanographer of the Navy. NAVOCEANO supplies oceanographic products and services to all elements of the Department of Defense.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Week in review (6/26 to 7/2)

Despite a poor initial operational test and evaluation report about the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk Block 30, the Air Force reports a relatively high operational reliability rating, according to a story in Flightglobal.

The Air Force reports that Block 30 Global Hawks, operating from four bases for five combatant commands, are operating with 76 percent reliability. The real-world operational rating contrasts dramatically with a 20 May IOT&E report that pegged reliability at 27 percent.

The Air Force indicated that current capability was improved by fixes to problems detailed in the report, but further specifics were not immediately available. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Story)

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Board are investigating an incident last month over Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport where a single-engine plane and airliner were at the same altitude and just 300 feet apart.

The near-miss happened June 19 between a Continental Express jet carrying 50 passengers and three crew and a Cessna 172 with a student pilot and instructor. FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the controller who was working with the aircraft when the incident occurred has been restricted from working air traffic until the FAA investigation is complete.

- Vision Airlines is dropping service to five of the two dozen cities it serves, citing lower than expected demand. Service is ending July 17 to Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C., Columbia, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., Huntsville, Ala., and Baton Rouge, La. But it's picking up service to the Bahamas. Vision's hub is at the Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

MI Support Services, Denton, Texas, was awarded a $13.9 million contract with cost reimbursable line items for program management, organizational and intermediate maintenance services for T-38 aircraft for the Companion Trainer Program for aircraft assigned to five locations. The locations of performance are Beale Air Force Base, Calif.; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; Langley Air Force Base, Va.; Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.; and Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. … Raytheon Co., Missile Systems Division, was awarded a $10.6 million contract modification for the Processor Replacement Program Foreign Military Sales software extension probability of weapon effectiveness. AAC/EBAC, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: Ingalls Shipbuilding's third Legend-class national security cutter, Stratton, successfully completed builder's sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico during the week, the company announced. … Austal USA, Mobile, Ala., was awarded a $312.9 million modification to previously awarded contract for the exercise of construction options for ships six and seven of the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) Program. Gulf Coast work sites are in Mobile, Gulfport, Miss., and Slidell, La. … Lockheed Martin Corp., MS2, Integrated Defense Technologies, Baltimore, Md., was awarded a $13 million modification under previously awarded contract for MK 41 Vertical Launching System ordnance alteration kits, production support material, interim support parts, and equipment in support of DDG 51-class new construction, and Aegis modernization programs. Nearly 19 percent of the work will be done in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Advanced materials: University of Southern Mississippi scientists are working on a technique to fight cancer that involves a polymers so tiny that they can be absorbed by cancerous cells in order to stop them in their tracks. A professor and team of about 10 graduate, post-grad and undergrad polymer science students is working with researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham's Comprehensive Cancer Center. They began collaborating this year.