Saturday, October 1, 2011

Week in review (9/25 to 10/1)

When it came to aerospace news for the Gulf Coast during the week, there was just about something for everyone. Fascinated with space? Then word that portions of NASA's heavy-lift rocket will be built at Michoud Assembly Facility or the ongoing series of rocket engine tests at Stennis Space Center likely drew your attention. Military aviation? It looks like F-35s will take to the air at Eglin Air Force Base later this month, and a Navy darling – the Fire Scout – flew for the first time using biofuel. Economic development? Then the hint that Lake Charles, La., might build jet trainers would have interested you. One publication mentioned Mobile, Ala., as a possible build site for those trainers, while another quoted a senator as saying Airbus is looking at Mobile to build commercial jetliners.

One more thing. If you’re interested in dollar figures, some $644.7 million in DoD contracts with some ties to the Gulf Coast were awarded. OK, here's the rundown.

When it comes to significant, it was pretty hard to top the news that came from Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that NASA has chosen Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to build components of its new heavy-lift rocket. Vitter released a statement late in the week saying the decision is "big big news for southeast Louisiana."

Indeed, hundreds of jobs, perhaps a couple thousand, would come from that work. And that's good news for a facility that began seeing jobs disappear as the Space Shuttle program drew to a close.

For anyone closely following the space program, it really wasn't much of a surprise that Michoud would be chosen. Michoud was picked by NASA to build portions of the now-defunct Constellation program, and the same factors that prompted that decision hold true for the Space Launch System. It's a huge facility, 43 acres under one roof.

NASA plans to build several components at Michoud, including manufacturing core stage and upper stage, the instrument ring and integrating engines with core and upper stages, according to Vitter's release.

Meanwhile, some 40 miles away from Michoud at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., testing continues on engines that will be used not only by the SLS, but by private companies that are taking over the low-Earth orbit missions from NASA.

NASA conducted a 40-second test of the J-2X rocket engine, the most recent in a series of tests of the next-generation engine chosen as part of the Space Launch System. It was a test at the 99 percent power level to gain a better understanding of start and shutdown systems as well as modifications that had been made from previous test firing results.

The test came two weeks after NASA announced plans for the new SLS to be powered by core-stage RS-25 D/E and upper-stage J-2X engines. The liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen J-2X is being developed for NASA by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which has a major facility at SSC.

On the commercial side of the equation, engineers at SSC during the week conducted a test of an Aerojet AJ26 flight engine that will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corp's Taurus II space launch vehicle. Orbital will provide cargo resupply flights to the International Space Station under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services research and development initiative.

The test on the E-1 Test Stand was performed by a team of Orbital, Aerojet and Stennis engineers. Data from the test will be reviewed and verified before the engine is delivered to the Wallops Flight Facility launch site in Virginia for installation on the Taurus II rocket's first-stage core.

- While on the topic of NASA, the agency is restructuring its contracting program as the agency's missions change. Contractors are anticipating a new initiative worth millions over nearly 10 years. The initiative, known as the Test and Operations Support Contract, covers ground systems work now being done by Boeing and the United Space Alliance.

The new program would provide NASA with services related to managing the ground systems used for flight launches, such as maintaining equipment, overseeing landings and performing simulations and experiments.

Economic development
OK, fans of the tanker competition. Here's another competition to keep your eye on. It hasn't officially started yet, but teams are being formed to compete for building the jet trainer that will replace the Air Force's T-38.

Aviation Week had a good overview of the posturing that's going on. Many foreign companies are expected to compete, and it's likely they'll insource manufacturing jobs to the United States. Think tanker, think arguements about American versus foreign, U.S. jobs versus foreign jobs. That message sunk in, no doubt.

BAE announced that Northrop Grumman will be its U.S. manufacturing lead for its Hawk-based candidate. Although both companies are keeping quiet about where the Hawk would be built, Aviation Week reports that Northrop has been hoping to secure work for its Lake Charles, La., plant.

BAE Systems is making an early pitch. Two UK Royal Air Force Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers will demonstrate their capabilities at U.S. Air Force bases nationwide, according to BAE Systems Inc. The company is offering the Hawk AJTS. The Navy for some time now has been using a Hawk. The T-45 Goshawk is a variant of the Hawk 60. But the BAE/Northrop team won’t be alone in this fight.

Alenia Aeronautica is still talking to potential partners, including Northrop, Boeing, Raytheon and L-3 Communications, and Jacksonville, Fla., is considered a potential site. And then there's the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries team and its T-50-based proposal. That site might be Lockheed's facility in Marietta, Ga. Mobile, Ala., is another option, according to Aviation Week.

OK, the above item is a good lead-in for this item. EADS is looking into whether it's feasible to build commercial airplanes in Mobile, Ala. That's according to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. In an interview with the Birmingham News after a symposium address, Shelby said that while EADS didn't win the competition against Boeing to build tankers for the Air Force, a loss that ended EADS' plans to put an assembly plant in Mobile, the senator said EADS's Airbus may end up building commercial airplanes in Mobile.

"They're looking to see if it's feasible," Shelby said. Shelby was a participant at a symposium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., hosted by GE Aviation, which is building an engine coatings plant in Auburn. GE Aviation also has an engine components plant in Batesville, Miss., and is building another one near Hattiesburg in South Mississippi.

- Speaking of GE Aviation, the Ohio-based company is marking 40 years in the commercial aviation business and feeling good about the future, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The company landed orders for more than $27 billion in engines and services at the Paris Air Show in June, and GE Aviation is ramping up production.

It added 1,000 jobs across its U.S. manufacturing operations over the past three years and plans to add another 1,000 over the next three years. That includes 200 jobs in Dayton, Ohio, 400 new jobs at two component plants in Mississippi and 400 more across its 20 U.S. operating plants. One of the Mississippi plants is in Ellisville, near Hattiesburg.

The F-35s at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., could be flying next month, according to Aviation Week. F-35 program officials are awaiting a clearance from the procurement community to begin flight operations at Eglin, a step closer to pilot training.

The Air Force is reviewing data collected during a period of "maturity flights" using two conventional-takeoff-and-landing F-35As at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Tom Burbage, executive vice president of F-35 integration at Lockheed Martin, says he hopes to have the first F-35 flying at Eglin by Oct. 31. The F-35As at Eglin right now are supporting maintenance training.

Unmanned systems
The Navy reached a milestone in its quest to gain energy independence during the week when an MQ-8B Fire Scout, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., successfully flew the first unmanned biofueled flight.

The Fire Scout, tested in Maryland, was fueled with a combination of JP-5 aviation fuel and plant-based camelina. The biofuel blend reduces carbon dioxide output by 75 percent when compared to conventional aviation fuel.

The unmanned helicopter provides situational awareness, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting data to forward deployed warfighter, and can operate from all air capable ships and is currently providing ISR support during its first-land based deployment in U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Fire Scout is the seventh aircraft to demonstrate the versatility of biofuel through its use in all facets of naval aviation.

For the second year in a row, Air Force Materiel Command selected Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., for the Commander-in-Chief's 2012 Annual Award for Installation Excellence. Eglin will compete against other command winners for the Air Force level award. Each finalist base will be visited by an inspection team next year. The winner is traditionally announced in April.

- A long-time member of Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., has closed its doors. The Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory closed Sept. 2 and moved to new facilities at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The move of the lab, which employed 65, was dictated by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005. Wright-Patterson is headquarters of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

During the week, L-3 Vertex Aerospace of Madison, Miss., was a huge winner, landing four contracts. It was awarded a $139 million contract modification for logistics support for the T -1A aircraft at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., and several Air Force bases. It was also awarded a $123 million modification for logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot-level maintenance required to support 36 T-45A, and 168 T-45C, aircraft based at Naval Air Station Pensacola, NAS Meridian, Miss., NAS Kingsville, Texas, and NAS Patuxent River, Md. In addition, the company was awarded a $23.5 million contract for contractor logistics support and Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department support for the T-39 Undergraduate Military Flight Officer Training Program. This also provides intermediate level maintenance and support for Chief of Naval Air Training aircraft, transient aircraft, tenant, and other services activities at the NAS Pensacola and NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. Finally, L-3 was also awarded an $11.3 million modification for trainer maintenance at Sheppard Air Force-Base, Texas, and satellite site at NAS Pensacola, Fla. … Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $187 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract, providing additional funding for recurring sustainment support, and system engineering sustainment activities necessary to meet the requirement and delivery schedule of this low rate initial production, lot five, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Much of the work, 60 percent, will be performed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. … Rolls-Royce Defense Services Inc., Indianapolis, Ind., was awarded a $99.9 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for intermediate and depot-level maintenance and related support for in-service T-45 F405-RR-401 Adour engines under the power-by-the-hour arrangement. In addition, this modification provides for inventory control, sustaining engineering and configuration management, as well as integrated logistics support and required engineering elements necessary to support the F405-RR-401 engine at the organization level. Work will be performed at the NAS Kingsville, Texas, NAS Meridian, Miss., NAS Pensacola, Fla., and NAS Patuxent River, Md. … Sikorsky Support Services Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a $49.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option 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 primarily at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, NAS Whiting Field, Fla. and NAS Pensacola, Fla. Work will be performed in Corpus Christi, Whiting Field and Pensacola … Amherst Systems Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., was awarded an $11.4 million contract to provide sustaining engineering services support on government-owned B-1, B-2, B-52, and fighter test facilities' threat simulations. AAC/PKES, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.