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.