Saturday, December 31, 2011

Week in review (12/25 to 12/31)

More F-35 Joint Strike Fighter contracts, another test of the Orion crew capsule and a couple of news items from airports in the region highlighted the aviation news of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor during the week.

But first, a housekeeping matter. This column, as well as the aerospace news feed and new shipbuilding feed, can now be read in any of 53 languages. The international audience for information about the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor is growing, so I wanted to make it as easy as possible to translate the content. The tool to pick a language appears at the top left hand column of each blog. I hope you find it helpful.

Now for the week in review:

Three contracts were awarded during the week related to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. That's of interest to Eglin Air Force Base, which is the initial training site for F-35 pilots and maintainers from all branches of the military.

The largest contract was for Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, a $1.1 billion modification to a previously awarded advanced acquisition contract for F-35 power plants. It provides for the Lot V Low Rate Initial Production of 21 F135 conventional take off and landing propulsion systems for the Air Force, three short take-off and vertical landing systems for the Marine Corps, and six carrier variant systems for the Navy.

Work will be done in Connecticut, the United Kingdom and Indiana and completed in February 2014. The contract combines purchases for the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy and the Cooperative Partner Participants. (Post)

Two other contracts were for Lockheed Martin. One was a $485 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract for F-35 Low Rate Initial Production Lot V, inclusive of special tooling/special test equipment and subcontractor technical assistance for the Air Force, Navy, and the Cooperative Partner participants.

Work will be done in Texas, California, the United Kingdom, Italy, New Hampshire and Maryland, and is expected to be completed in December 2013. The contract combines purchases for the Air Force, Navy and the Cooperative Partner participants. (Post)

The other Lockheed Martin contract was for $253 million, a modification to the previously awarded F-35 Low Rate Initial Production IV contract. The modification provides for recurring and non-recurring sustainment for the Navy, Air Force, and Cooperative Program participants.

Work will be done in Texas, California, United Kingdom, Florida, New Hampshire and Maryland, and is expected to be completed in May 2014. The contract combines purchases for the Navy, Air Force and Cooperative Program participants. (Post)

- The Air Force Times during the week had a feature story about the $20 million simulators for pilots who will learn to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. It points out that the simulators are so advanced they can be used to replicated aerial refueling with a KC-10 and KC-135, officials said. Air Force Times reports that 10 of the full mission simulators, built by Lockheed Martin, have been ordered so far. The refueling capability is just one of the advances. (Post)

Unmanned systems
Here's another item about a contract. Northrop Grumman was awarded a $47 million contract for the purchase and integration of two battlefield airborne communications node payloads on two Global Hawk Block 20 aircraft.

Global Hawks AF-11 and AF-13 will be provided to Northrop Grumman to integrate the BACN payload in Palmdale, Calif. Work is expected to be completed Aug. 22, 2012, for AF-11 and Dec. 15, 2012, for AF-13.

Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

- Hurlburt Field in Northwest Florida was mentioned several times in a recent story by the Los Angeles Times about the role played by contractors in analyzing video feeds from drones. The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, headquartered at Hurlburt, employs 165 civilians to analyze video and other intelligence acquired from drone flights over Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere. Those civilians work alongside uniformed military personnel in a vast facility at command headquarters. (Story)

NASA conducted a drop test of the Orion crew vehicle's parachutes over the Arizona desert in December in preparation for its orbital flight test in 2014. Orion will carry astronauts deep into space, and will include an emergency abort capability.

A C-130 dropped the Orion test article from an altitude of 25,000 feet above the Yuma Proving Grounds. Orion's drogue chutes were deployed between 15,000 and 20,000 feet, followed by the pilot parachutes, which then deployed two main landing parachutes.

Lockheed Martin builds Orion at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (Post)

- Sometimes, a news item isn't directly related to the Gulf Coast region, but is interesting enough in light of the other activities here. That's the case with Northrop Grumman expanding its commercial space portfolio.

Northrop Grumman subsidiary, Scaled Composites, will build an air-launch system for Stratolaunch. It will be the largest aircraft ever built with a wingspan of 385 feet, more than the length of a football field. Powered by six 747 engines, it will take off and land from a runway that's at least 12,000 feet long.

It will carry payloads like satellites that will have their own propulsion systems to boost them into orbit. The development work will take place in Mojave, Calif.

That item should be of interest to this region. We have space activities at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and there's an operation at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., that tracks space objects. Northrop Grumman is a major player in this region, and builds portions of unmanned aerial systems at Moss Point, Miss. (Story)

It's still unclear if a commercial carrier will come in to serve Mississippi's Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport once Delta Airlines ends service. According to the Hattiesburg American, in July the airline said it was discontinuing service to 24 smaller markets, including Hattiesburg.

Under federal guidelines the airliner was required to provide service for at least 90 days, but it's remained in place while a replacement is found, and there's no word how much longer that will be. The Department of Transportation currently is accepting bids for air service. (Post)

- The Crestview News Bulletins says a new 20,000 square-foot hangar is now officially opened at the Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Fla. The $1.7 million hangar is used by Qwest Air Parts of Memphis, Tenn., which dismantles airplanes for spare parts. The company has already dismantled an A310 and is now working on a DC-10 and MD-88. (Post)

In addition to the contracts mentioned above, Bell-Boeing Joint Project Office, Amarillo, Texas, was awarded a $33.3 million delivery order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement for the Joint and Allied Threat Awareness System and Radar Warning Receiver (APR-39D(V)X) integration in support of the MV-22B Osprey aircraft. Three percent of the work will be done in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. (Post)

Aviation Week had a story about the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer, raising the question, is it a science project testbed or a much-needed advanced destroyer? The publication points out that the answer depends on who is asked.

The ship being built by General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Maine is using a lot of new technologies, including a hybrid drive, composite deckhouse and new guns. Ingalls Shipbuilding's Composites Center of Excellence in Gulfport, Miss., is building the ship’s integrated composite deckhouse, helicopter hangars and parts of the ship’s peripheral vertical launch systems. (Post)

- Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., and five subcontractors have been cited by the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 50 safety and health violations. OSHA proposed a penalty of $176,444. Violations included blocked exits, tripping and fall hazards and more. (Post)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Week in review (12/18 to 12/24)

If you're a regular reader of this column, you know that in addition to providing a summary of aerospace activities of interest to the Gulf Coast region, I've added over the past few months information about the considerable shipbuilding activities in this region.

Over the coming year I'll continue that approach, but will also begin adding information about the other science, technology and defense activities in this region. There's a lot going on in the I-10 corridor that needs to be highlighted. I hope you'll find the additional information helpful.

Now here's the week in review:

NASA provided a year-end wrap-up of the work that's been done on the J-2X engine, which will power the heavy-lift Space Launch System's second stage. It's the first human-rated rocket engine to be developed in 40 years, and NASA and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne are setting new development records with the first J-2X engine unit, E10001.

During the year the engine went through its first 10 tests designed to check engine performance, and it accumulated a total hot-fire test run time of 1,040 seconds at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. The J-2X engine test program will need only five percent the number of tests required to develop the original J-2 engine. (Post)

- Raytheon Co. has successfully tested with the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite that will provide secure communications for the military. The test was with Raytheon's Navy Multiband Terminal, and it was the second operationally fielded terminal to interoperate with an on-orbit AEHF satellite. The first one to run through the test was Raytheon's Army Secure Mobile Anti-jam Reliable Tactical Terminal.

The first AEHF satellite was launched in August 2010. The joint service satellites are designed to replace the Milstar system for high-priority military ground, sea and air assets. The Lockheed Martin AEHF satellite's core propulsion module is built at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

The Japan Ministry of Defense chose the Lockheed Martin F-35 as the Japan Air Self Defense Force's next generation fighter aircraft. The initial contract will be for four F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variants.

The F-35 program is comprised of nine partner nations: the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. The U.K. and Netherlands have ordered test aircraft, and Italy and Australia have committed long-lead funding for their initial operational aircraft. In October 2010, Israel selected the F-35A as the Israel Air Force's next generation fighter. (Post)

- The first group of military maintainers at the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., recently qualified in numerous F-35A flight inspections by a uniformed certifier, a task only civilian certifiers initially were contracted to support. Eglin is home of the F-35 training center, and will train aviators and maintainers for all branches of the military as well as foreign aviators.

With hundreds of verifications on joint technical data on how to maintain the aircraft left to be accomplished for each of the three F-35 variants in 2012 and beyond, the military maintainers are not ready to take over, but are moving forward. (Post)

The airport is in a city known for its restaurants and cuisine, but you wouldn't know that from what's available in the concourses at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. Officials hope to change that and provide passengers with world class concessions by the time the city hosts the Super Bowl in February 2013, according to the Times-Picayune. (Post)

- For Vision Airlines, there were some ups and downs during the year for the newest commercial carrier at Northwest Florida Regional Airport. The company started with a single direct route from Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Miami. But in January 2011 it announced it would add direct flights to nearly 20 more cities. Since then, some routes were dropped, others added, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. (Post)

Vision Technologies Aerospace Inc. entered into an agreement with Pratt & Whitney to invest in a 50.1 percent stake in EcoServices LLC. Pratt & Whitney will retain the remaining 49.9 percent stake. EcoServices will provide EcoPower Engine Wash services to customers around the world, and will become a subsidiary of VT Aerospace. VT Aerospace owns three aerospace operating companies in Mobile, Ala., and San Antonio, Texas, specializing in aircraft engineering design, maintenance and modification. (Post)

EADS North America Inc., Arlington, Va., was awarded a $212.7 million contract to provide for the modification of an existing contract to procure 39 production aircraft in support of the Army's Light Utility Helicopter Program. Work will be done in Columbus, Miss. … GeoEnvironmental Resources, Virginia Beach, Va., was awarded a maximum $7.5 million contract for geotechnical engineering services to support the construction and maintenance of facilities required primarily for Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia, and various activities within the NAVFAC Atlantic area of responsibility. Task order 0001 is being awarded at $67,077 for A-E services to support the fiscal 2011 Airfield Pavement Condition Assessment Program at Whiting Field North, Fla.; Whiting Field South, Fla.; Naval Outlying Field (NOLF) Evergreen, Ala.; NOLF Brewton, Ala.; and NOLF Choctaw, Fla. … Equilon Enterprises was awarded a contract with a maximum $99.8 million for JP8 aviation turbine fuel. One place of performance is Mobile, Ala. … Placid Refining Co. LLC, Baton Rouge, La., was awarded a contract with a maximum $41.6 million for JP8 and JP5 aviation turbine fuel. … Cubic Defense Applications Inc., San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $15 million contract for airborne subsystems, parallel umbilical, ground subsystems and more, and well as technical and program management. Fort Walton Beach, Fla., is one of the places of performance. AAC/EBYK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. is the contracting activity. … The Boeing Co., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $10.9 million contract for five major subassemblies required to build-up six AC-130U 25mm ammunition storage handling systems assemblies. The location of the activity is Fort Walton Beach and is expected to be completed Jan. 31, 2014.

All the littoral combat ships being built in Alabama and Wisconsin will eventually be homeported in San Diego. The first LCS built in Wisconsin, the USS Freedom, has been there since 2010. But for the time being USS Independence, built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., is in Florida undergoing testing, according to DefenseNews.

The Independence is splitting its time between Mayport near Jacksonville on the Atlantic Coast and Panama City, home of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, on the Gulf Coast. The ship has been carrying out an extensive series of tests and trials of gear associated with the mine warfare mission module. (Story)

One example is the testing of the Navy's Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV). Lockheed Martin this month completed 500 hours of reliability testing. The system will provide mine reconnaissance capabilities to the LCS.

RMMV is an unmanned, semi-submersible, semi-autonomous vehicle that tows a variable-depth sensor that can detect and identify undersea threats. The testing, completed ahead of schedule, was conducted offshore near Palm Beach, Fla., and concludes the first of three planned development and testing cycles aimed to improve system reliability and operational availability for the Remote Minehunting System (RMS). (Story)

- The Navy received an OK to spend up to $35 million to buy both Austal USA-built super ferries from the Maritime Administration, reports the Mobile Press-Register. The Huakai and Alakia, both built in Mobile, Ala., will be transferred to the Navy if the bill is signed by the president. The ferries were originally built to transport people and goods around the Hawaiian islands. (Post)

- Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Panama City, Fla., is adding 500 jobs to fill two new contracts, according to the Panama City News Herald. The contracts are for 13 supply vessels. One is for Boldini S.A., and the other for Hornbeck Offshore. The company is one of the largest employers in Bay County. (Post)

- Huntington Ingalls Industries delivered the company's sixth amphibious transport dock, San Diego, to the Navy at a brief ceremony at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., early in the week. The 684-foot long ship, LPD 22 is scheduled to be commissioned in the spring of 2012 in San Diego. The principal mission is to deploy the combat and support elements of Marine Expeditionary Units and Brigades. (Post)

- Shipbuilding contracts: Austal Hull 130 Chartering LLC, Mobile, Ala., was awarded an $8.2 million contract for the worldwide charter of one U.S.-flagged passenger/cargo ferry. The ferry will support the Marine Corps Third Marine Expeditionary Force. … Alion Science and Technology, Burr Ridge, Ill, was awarded a $73.2 million not-to-exceed letter contract for professional support services in support of surface warfare fleet support. Some of the work will be done in Pascagoula, Miss. … Austal USA, Mobile, Ala., was awarded a $7.9 million modification to previously awarded contract to exercise an option for core Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class services for the LCS program. Austal USA will assess engineering, baseline, and configuration management services in support of the basic construction, post delivery, test and trials phases of the LCS class. Thirty percent of the work will be done in Mobile.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Week in review (12/11 to 12/17)

Passage of a defense spending measure that includes protections for Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; the return of an aerospace company to Baldwin County, Ala.; new digs of an aerospace company in Gulf Breeze, Fla.; more rocket engine testing at Stennis Space Center, Miss.; awards and much more highlighted aerospace activities of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Here’s the week in review:

A panel of speakers at the inaugural Defense Communities 360 Live Webcast warned during the week what we've all known for a while: the consequences Pentagon cuts will be widespread at installations nationwide.

"Every military base should seriously contemplate that something adverse is going to happen to them," Barry Steinberg, partner at Kutak Rock, told listeners.

No matter the size of the cut, the military's force structure and weapons systems will decline, panelists said. The really chilling part is that the panelists expect another base closure round perhaps in 2015 or 2017.

The BRAC process allows the Pentagon to consolidate various missions through realignment without Congress overseeing the process. A key for BRAC is merging similar functions performed across the services.

The I-10 region between Southeast Louisiana and Northwest Florida has a lot at stake in any BRAC process. We have a host of bases, many involved in aviation activities. Cuts have already been announced for Tyndall Air Force Base and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and Keesler Air Force Base and the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Mississippi. And that's just the start as the military makes cuts even before any BRAC.

The next BRAC round would resemble past ones, Steinberg said, but Congress might impose precise constraints on what approaches DoD could pursue in overhauling its real estate, as compared to the 2005 round. Also expect a requirement that the military adopt a more accurate way to assess the costs and savings, Steinberg said. (Post)

That's the kind of thinking -- an accurate assessment of the costs -- behind an amendment drafted by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Designed to protect the research, development, test and evaluation activities at Eglin Air Force Base, the amendment is ncluded in the $662 billion defense spending bill approved by Congress.

The amendment, pushed through a conference committee by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., requires the Air Force to present Congress a report on its proposal to reorganize its Materiel Command within 180 days of the bill’s passage, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. (Post)

The reorganization announced in November eliminates Eglin's Air Armament Center, replacing it with a directorate, as well as the 96th Base Wing as manager of the base. It gives that function to Eglin's 46th Test Wing, which will be under the command of a two-star at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Air Force officials say that even with the reorganization, Eglin remains the center for aerial weapons development and testing. That's true today. Tomorrow is another matter. Things change, just ask the Boeing workers in Kansas who backed that company's bid to win a tanker contract, only to find months later that workers in Wichita may lose their Boeing plant. Think "recalculate," once an action is done, a recalculation opens up other scenarios.

Nelson, Miller and others are well aware of the value of Eglin's RDT&E. Eglin spends some $600 million to $700 million a year on R&D. To put that in context, just 14 universities in the United States and seven of 39 federally funded research centers spent more than Eglin on R&D in FY 2009. Think what that means. We have in this region one of the nation's premier R&D operations.

Investing in science and engineering is widely recognized as a pathway to prosperity. R&D is key to innovation, and can spur economic growth and high-paying jobs. It attracts high-tech companies and spawns home-grown companies, all elements of sustainable growth. I've often pointed to Huntsville, Ala., as a model for building a sci-tech economy. It continues to be a magnet for high-tech operations. Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen's new space venture, Stratolaunch, will be based in Huntsville. That's not because Allen just happens to like Huntsville. It's because it has the infrastructure and workers to make the business a success.

While not on the level of Huntsville, a thriving aerospace industry has grown up around Eglin due in part to the RDT&E functions. But the fear of politicians and local economic development officials is that Edwards Air Force Base covets all that activity. And if that happens, the industry that's grown around Eglin would be left holding the bag. When the Pentagon makes its calculations about the cost of dismantling Eglin's R&D and moving it elsewhere, it doesn't occur in a vacuum. Those companies will be forced to pay a price, whether that means moving or shutting down. It would also impact the University of Florida, which has engineering R&D activities just outside the base.

Eglin's R&D is a jewel of the Gulf Coast’s economy, but it's not the only military base with an R&D function that could be jeopardized. The Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, Fla., is one of the Navy's premier research organizations, responsible for support for mission areas within the littoral environment, including mine, amphibious and special warfare, as well as diving systems. It's one of the major research, development, test and evaluation laboratories of the Navy and boasts a wide base of expertise in engineering and scientific disciplines. Protecting that is essential.

What every politician in the Gulf Coast region needs to realize is, yes, it's important to protect the military operation in your own back yard. But Eglin represents an R&D capability others would love to have. And if this region were to lose that, it would make the natural and manmade disasters that have hit this region seem small and short-lived by comparison.

If you want to learn more about this region's R&D activities, take a look at Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor 2011-2012, which I co-authored, and download Part III: RDT&E/applied technology. The book and separate chapters are free thanks to the underwriters, the Aerospace Alliance, Gulf Coast Regional Chamber Coalition and Mississippi Enterprise for Technology.

- The 46th Test Wing at Eglin was awarded an Air Force Outstanding Unit award for 2010. The award, the 13th for the wing, recognizes the top 10 percent of numbered Air Force units. The wing performed more than 5,600 air and ground test missions and logged more than 6,200 flying hours while testing 37 highly modified test aircraft worth $4.5 billion. (Post)

- A new report ranks South Mississippi as one of the top five less-known regions in the country for defense jobs. The report by said defense spending, notably in shipbuilding and aerospace, helped rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina, according to the Sun Herald. The report said South Mississippi has jobs for rocket scientists, oceanographers, cybersecurity personnel, geospatial analysts, technical trainers and test engineers. (Post)

- The 2011 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index ranks Mobile, Ala., 34, Pensacola, Fla., 73, and New Orleans 101 in the list of 200 large metro areas. The index shows the performance of 379 large and small metro areas in creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth, including technology growth. In the list of 179 small metro areas, Pascagoula, Miss., is ranked 40, Panama City, Fla., is 73, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., is 75, and Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss., 79. (Post)

Aero-mark MRO will be opening a 26,000 square-foot facility to assemble and repair military aircraft system parts, according to the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance. Plans are to open in January at the Fairhope airport with 25 workers, according to the Mobile Press-Register. The company is awaiting FAA approval for a license. The company is owned by AIRINC, a repair station at the airport that was sold to Fokker Aircraft. Fokker closed the plant last October and moved operations to Georgia. (Post)

- The new $10 million, 53,000-square-foot headquarters of Avalex Technologies will hold a grand opening in Gulf Breeze, Fla., in January. The company makes flat panel displays, digital mapping systems, video recorders and infrared sensor pointing systems for military and law enforcement airborne surveillance, according to the Pensacola News Journal. The company has 65 workers and is hiring. Workers moved into the new building in November from nearby Pensacola. (Post)

- Goodrich Corp.'s Engineered Polymer Products (EPP) site in Jacksonville, Fla., was recognized as a 2011 Manufacturer of the Year by the Manufacturers Association of Florida. EPP is part of Goodrich's Aerostructures business, the same Goodrich division as the Goodrich Alabama Service Center in Foley, Ala. (Post)

NASA conducted its final J-2X rocket engine test of the year at Stennis Space Center, Miss. It was the 10th firing in a series on the upper-stage engine for the Space Launch System. The engine was test fired on the A-2 stand at 100 percent power for engine performance calibration and the effects of fuel inlet pressure variations. More testing will be done in 2012. Additional J-2X engines are being manufactured for hot fire testing at Stennis planned through 2014. (Post)

- On the commercial side of the equation, there was another successful test firing of Aerojet's AJ26 No. 8 engine in support of Orbital Science Corp.'s program to launch a cargo mission to the International Space Station. The next test of a the AJ26 No. 9 engine is slated for January. The engines will be used on Orbital's Antares rocket, the new name for the medium-class launch vehicle previously called Taurus II. (Post)

- When you think of space in this region, you normally think of Stennis Space Center, Miss. But there's another space operation at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The operators of the 20th Space Control Squadron use the world's most powerful radar for around-the-clock space surveillance. The public affairs office published a feature story about the organization. (Post)

A maritime training facility being built at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., will be named after Gov. Haley Barbour. Work on the 76,000-square-foot Haley Reeves Barbour Maritime Training Academy could begin as early as January and completed in 18 months, according to the Mississippi Press. (Post)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Week in review (12/4 to 12/10)

Another company's decision to test rocket engines at Stennis Space Center, Miss.; the $4 billion purchase of 30 production F-35s; the expected arrival this coming week of a Marine F-35C at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; yet another capability for the Fire Scout unmanned helicopters; underwater robots that can make their own decisions; and a new high school flight academy were some of the aerospace stories of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor during the week.

NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center (SSC) in South Mississippi has become a real hot spot lately, partly due to NASA's decision to shift low-orbit activity to the commercial sector. A commercial space company has decided that SSC in South Mississippi would be a great place to test its engines. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver announced during a Thursday visit to Blue Origin in Kent, Wash., that the company will best its rocket engines at SSC.

Blue Origin is developing a reuseable launch vehicle designed to take off and land vertically. The company is one of NASA's commercial partners developing systems to reach low Earth orbit as part of the Commercial Crew Development Program. The company delivered its BE-3 engine thrust chamber assembly, the engine's combustion chamber and nozzle, to SSC, where testing will begin in April 2012 at the E-1 Test Stand.

Blue Origin joins Aerojet, which is testing its AJ-26 rocket engines at SSC, and Rolls-Royce, which is testing airline jet engines at its own stand within SSC.

"We're delighted Blue Origin is taking advantage of Stennis, a center with a long record of propulsion testing from the dawn of the Space Age, to test the rocket engines of the future," said the deputy administrator. (Post)

The E-1 stand where the BE-3 will be tested is part of the E-Complex. Just last month NASA put out a request to commercial companies to gauge interest in taking over operation of the E-4 test stand at the complex. (Post)

- An upgraded J-2X powerpack has been installed on the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center and will be tested next month, NASA said. The powerpack consists of a gas generator and turbopumps, and is designed to pump liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the J-2X's main combustion chamber to produce thrust.

The Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne J-2X is designed to provide 294,000 pounds of thrust, up from the 230,000-pound capability of the original J-2 used in the Apollo program. By the way, it took two years to modify the A-1 stand for the test series. (Post)

- A test version of the Orion crew capsule will take its final splash of the year Tuesday at the Hydro Impact Basin of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Testing began this summer to certify the Orion spacecraft for water landings.

Since July, engineers have conducted six tests from different angles, heights and pitches to simulate varying sea conditions and impacts Orion could face upon landing in the Pacific Ocean. The Hydro Impact Basin is 115 feet long and 20 feet deep. (Post) The Orion test article was fabricated at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

Two days after that test splash, NASA will host an industry day at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., to share information on an upcoming NASA Research Announcement for the Space Launch System's advanced booster. Marshall is leading the design and development of the SLS.

The 130-metric ton vehicle will require an advanced booster with a significant increase in thrust over existing U.S. liquid or solid boosters. Its first full-scale test flight is set for 2017. (Post)

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is ready to put $200 million of
work for the heavy launch Space Launch System on the table. NASA is seeking research proposals to meet the "goal of reducing risk in the areas of affordability, performance, and reliability" in the new rocket's booster, scheduled to make its first flight in 2017, according to the Huntsville Times. (Post)

The first Marine Corps F-35 is expected to arrive at the Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Training Center in Northwest Florida next week. The F-35C will be flown from the Lockheed Martin manufacturing center in Fort Worth, Texas, by the military's first F-35 pilots, according to the base.

There are three variants of the F-35, one a conventional takeoff and landing variant for the Air Force, one a Navy version designed for carrier landings, and one a vertical takeoff and landing version for the Marine Corps. The arrival of the F-35 at Eglin will bring to seven the number of F-35s at the base. Eventually, the base will have 59 Joint Strike Fighters. (Post)

- Lockheed Martin was awarded a $4 billion fixed-price-incentive modification to a
previously awarded advance acquisition contract for the manufacture and delivery of 30 Low Rate Initial Production Lot V F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

The Air Force will get 21 conventional take off and landing variants, the Navy is getting six carrier variants and the Marine Corps will get three short take off and vertical landing variants. The modification also provides for associated ancillary mission equipment and flight test instrumentation for the aircraft, and flight test instrumentation for the United Kingdom.

The price tag for the Air Force is $2.6 million, for the Navy $937 million, the Marine Corps $426 million and the UK $4 million.

- Speaking of money, General Electric and Rolls Royce decided to stop throwing money away on the ill-fated F136 turbofan designed for the F-35 as an alternate engine. The two companies had been paying for the development after the Defense Department terminated the project in April. Now the Pratt and Whitney F135 engine is the only one that will power to F-35. (Post) Pratt & Whitney, GE and Rolls-Royce all have operations in the Gulf Coast region.

As expected, the National Labor Relations Board dropped its legal challenge against Boeing over a nonunion 787 plant the company opened in South Carolina. The decision announced Friday comes after the Machinists union approved a four-year contract extension with Boeing. As part of that deal, the union agreed to withdraw its charge that the company violated federal labor laws. (Post)

Union officials say that 74 percent of voting members chose to approve the deal. The union represents 28,000 workers in Washington, Oregon and Kansas. Boeing promised that if workers approved the pact, the company would build the new version of the 737 in the Puget Sound region. (Post)

You can't help but wonder how Kansas feels about all of this. Boeing has said it's considering closing the plant, which was supposed to militarize the 767s that Boeing is using for Air Force tankers. Part of the agreement between the union and Boeing is that the work that would have been done in Kansas will now be done in Washington state.

Politicians in Kansas want to meet with Boeing to hear what lawmakers can do to keep 2,100 aircraft manufacturing jobs in Wichita, according to KansasReporter. Former Congressman Todd Tiahrt, a consultant for the company, said that he thinks the likelihood of Boeing staying in Wichita has improved since the possible closing was firsts reported three weeks ago. He said the company appears to be rearranging supply lines and other work among its manufacturing plants to direct more resources toward the expected tanker projects in Wichita. "I suspect they are going to stay," he said. (Story) Boeing has operations in the Gulf Coast.

A Fire Scout unmanned helicopter successfully sent sensor data to the cockpit display of a MH-60 helicopter during a demonstration in October near Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md. That paves the way for improving the speed at which field commanders can make decisions during military operations.

Until now, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data gathered by Fire Scout was sent to its host ship for further dissemination. Notably, crew members aboard a nearby Coast Guard boat also viewed Fire Scout's sensor data in real time using a remote terminal. (Post)

This new capability is particularly important for the Navy's first composite squadron forming next year in San Diego. Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 35, nicknamed "Magicians," will be using the manned MH-60R Seahawk and unmanned MQ-8B Fire Scouts for expeditionary missions. It will deploy detachments of both aircraft to LCSs, cruisers, destroyers and frigates. (Post)

Those Northrop Grumman Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., and Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., builds one version of littoral combat ship. For what it's worth, a report from analysts at two Washington, D.C., think tanks speculates that littoral combat ships and joint high speed vessels could be vulnerable to upcoming defense spending cuts.

Well, so could everything else.

What needs to be kept in mind is the ripple effect of cuts. The development of the composite squadron is not necessarily dependent on having littoral combat ships in service, but it's clearly designed to be deployed aboard those ships.

By the way, Austal USA opened an office in Washington to be closer to Navy officials, according to the Mobile Press Register. The newspaper said a former Huntington Ingalls executive was hired as director of the office. (Story)

In Florida, Escambia High School has become the third school in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties to create a flight academy. The National Flight Academy at Naval Air Station Pensacola partnered with the district to create an Aviation Classroom Experience, a game-based learning environment to teach skills in science, technology, engineering and math. The other area schools with flight academies are Warrington Middle School in Escambia County and Milton High School in Santa Rosa County, according to the Pensacola News Journal. (Post)

Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Northwest Florida near Milton marked its 20th consecutive year as a National Arbor Day Foundation "Tree City, USA." The base celebrated the platinum anniversary of its green leadership by planting a sapling river birch on the grounds of the air station's fire department Tuesday. The base in Northwest Florida trains naval helicopter and fixed-wing aviators.

The Defense Logistics Agency is buying 450,000 gallons of biofuel made from a blend of non-food waste from the Louisiana-based Dynamic Fuels LLC and algae produced by Solazyme. The fuel will be used in the Navy's demonstration of a Green Strike Group in the summer of 2012 during the Rim of the Pacific Exercise. Dynamic Fuels is building a synthetic fuels plant in Geismar, La., near Baton Rouge … Raytheon Co., Andover, Mass., was awarded a $34.6 million contract to provide development and management services for systems under the Product Management Office for Integrated Tactical Systems. Some of the work will be done in Pensacola, Fla. … Emerald Coast Aviation in Crestview, Fla., will provide aviation fuel at Northwest Florida Regional Airport, as well as gas for the rental car fleet, according to the Crestview Bulletin.

BAE Systems received a $37 million contract to design, install and test onboard radio communications and network capability for the U.S. Navy's new DDG 113 and DDG 114 destroyers, both being built by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. The systems will be installed at shipbuilder sites in Pascagoula, as well as Bath, Maine. (Post)

The Office of Naval Research says scientists have successfully transitioned fundamental research in autonomy to undersea gliders, demonstrating in sea tests in the Pacific how the new software can help robots become smarter at surveying large swaths of ocean – making decisions without human intervention. (Post)

In Mississippi, Jackson County Supervisors will make a proposal to the Mississippi Development Authority for up to $20 million for a test facility at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula. The facility would be built on the west bank of the shipyard and would be used for pre-installation assembly, integration and testing of ship components and equipment. (Post)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Week in review (11/27 to 12/3)

There were plenty of news items of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region during the week, including a measure to protect Eglin Air Force Base's RDT&E activities; another J-2X engine test at Stennis Space Center; concerns over F-35 "hot spots" and the aircraft's first launch from an electromagnetic launch system; selection of a Hurlburt Field general to lead a probe; a U.K. sub test -firing Tomahawk missile from the Gulf of Mexico; an airliner bankruptcy and much more.

Pentagon cuts
There's been a lot of concern about the future of this region's military activities ever since it became clear some time back that the Pentagon's budget was going to be tight. That concern increased last month when some cuts were announced.

In the latest move to protect military activities in this region, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he succeeded in passing a measure he believes can prevent the research, development, testing and evaluation activities at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., from being moved to other bases in any future Pentagon restructuring.

The measure was included in the Defense Authorization Act, but there is no companion measure in the House version. A conference committee is to be selected to combine the House and Senate versions of the bill. (Story)

If you're not that familiar with the military activities in the Gulf Coast region, there's aerial weapons development, aviator training, special operations, technical training – including cyber security – and multiple reserve activities, just to name a few. In addition to the bases themselves, there are multiple companies in the region that depend on the health of those bases.

For an overview of the military in the Gulf Coast region, take a look at the chapter on "military aviation" in the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor 2011-2012 reference book. It focuses on aviation, but has information on other military activities as well.

One of the Eglin missions of high interest to readers is the ongoing development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Eglin is where pilots of all branches, including foreign pilots, will receive initial training.

In one story during the week, the program chief said testing of the F-35 has shown more "hot spots" in the airframe than expected. Vice Adm. David Venlet recommends slowing production of the fighter until the issues are resolved.

The fatigue hot spots are not a threat to safety or the mission, but need to be fixed to make sure the plane's structural parts last the 8,000 hours of service life required, said the admiral. (Story)

Meanwhile, a senior Defense Department official said the Marine Corps could start training new students to fly the F-35B short take-off vertical landing version of the F-35 in August 2012. (Story)

- In Lakehurst, N.J., an F-35C test aircraft was launched with the new electromagnetic aircraft launch system. The test of aircraft CF-3 provided an opportunity to evaluate technical risks and began the process to integrate the carrier variant Joint Strike Fighter with the future carrier fleet aircraft launching system being developed for the new Gerald R. Ford class of carrier.

Aircraft for years have used steam catapults, and the F-35C has completed more than 50 steam catapult launches. But EMALS uses magnetic fields to propel a carriage down a track, allowing a more gradual speed increase and reducing airframe stress. The launch system operates on the same principal as the cutting-edge electric rail gun.

NASA during the week conducted a stability test firing of the J-2X rocket engine on the A-2 test stand at Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi. The upper-stage engine is being developed to carry humans farther into space than ever before.

During the 80-second test, a controlled explosion was initiated inside the engine's combustion chamber to introduce an energetic pulse of vibrations not expected during nominal operations. Data from this and future combustion stability tests will help engineers understand more about the engine's performance and robustness during operation.

The engine is being developed by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and will provide upper-stage power for NASA's new Space Launch System. The SLS will carry the Orion spacecraft, its crew, cargo, and science experiments to space. In early November NASA conducted a successful 500-second test of the J-2X, which uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants. (Post)

But it may be a while before the J-2X is used. Space News in late November reported that NASA lacks the funds to complete a flight-ready J-2X upper stage engine before 2021, and the agency will procure a commercial cryogenic rocket engine for the first two flights of the SLS. The only U.S. cryogenic upper-stage engine currently in services is the RL-10 that Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne builds for United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets. (Story)

- NASA selected 300 small business proposals to enter into negotiations for possible contract awards through the agency's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

Eight of the proposals involve technologies being developed for the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., including one involving Innovative Imaging and Research at SSC and the University of Southern Mississippi.

The SBIR and STTR programs encourage small businesses and research institutions to engage in federal research, development and commercialization to address NASA needs.

- NASA selected ISS Action Inc. of Jamaica, N.Y., to provide protective services at the
agency's Stennis Space Center, Miss. The contract consists of a base period of eight months and four one-year option periods and a total value of $25.9 million. The work includes physical security operations, personnel security, access control, badging, 911 dispatch center, access monitoring, traffic control and locksmith services.

Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark of the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Fla., was appointed to head an investigation into the Nov. 26 deaths of Pakistani soldiers during an engagement near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, directed Clark to provide an initial report on the incident by Dec. 23. NATO, the Afghan and Pakistan governments are also invited to name representatives to the team.

- Keesler Air Force Base's updated Air Installation Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ) study will be released at a public meeting Dec. 12 at the Visitors Center in Biloxi, Miss. Keesler officials point out that as surrounding cities grow, it's important that government, businesses and Keesler work together to implement mutually-beneficial planning for the future. The study addresses aircraft noise and accident potential zones created by current flying operations at Keesler, and contains information on building height restrictions and other data.

- Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton in Northwest Florida marked a step on its path to energy independence Nov. 29 with a ribbon-cutting for the air station's first large-scale photovoltaic power system. The solar array is designed to provide primary power to building 2981, which houses Training Air Wing 5's fixed-wing Training Squadron 2 and Training Squadron 6. A duplicate of the solar array has been installed to service a similar facility containing two of the air station's three south field-based helicopter training squadrons.

Boeing and its biggest union reached a tentative agreement on a four-year contract extension that would ensure the 737MAX is built in Renton, Wash., and would likely lead to a settlement of the National Labor Relations Board case against the company over a 787 production line in South Carolina.

The deal could also bring Air Force tanker work to Puget Sound if Boeing decides to shut down a Wichita, Kan., plant. The 28,000 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are due to vote on the deal this week.

- In another Boeing-related item, the Defense Department says the company may exceed by as much as $500 million the cost ceiling on its contract for new refueling tankers for the Air Force. That’s $200 million more than previous estimates.

Boeing, which is developing the tanker from its 767 airliner, absorbs the cost over the contract’s $4.8 billion ceiling. Government officials in June told Bloomberg News that Boeing was projected to exceed the ceiling by $300 million. The new estimate is in the Selected Acquisition Report, the Pentagon’s first official cost review for the 179-aircraft, $51.7 billion program.

Boeing won the tanker project over EADS, which planned to assemble its tankers in Mobile, Ala.

The Air Force authorized Raytheon to begin low rate initial production of the Miniature Air Launched Decoy Jammer variant. MALD is a modular, air-launched, programmable system that weighs less than 300 pounds and has a range of about 575 miles.

It protects aircrews and their aircraft by duplicating the combat flight profiles and signatures of U.S. and allied aircraft, and the new model adds radar-jamming capability that allows it to perform stand-in jamming missions instead of using manned aircraft. Raytheon will begin delivering MALD-J in 2012. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has been the contracting activity for development of the system.

- A British submarine, HMS Astute, in November test fired Tomahawk cruise missiles from a location in the Gulf of Mexico to a target at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The tests were designed to show the new class of sub capable of using the Tomahawk cruise missile. The first launch tested a Block III Tomahawk, followed by a torpedo tube-launched Block IV Tomahawk. The Astute class of sub is built by BAE Systems. The sub will continue trials in the US until the early spring before returning to the UK for more training before her first operational deployment.

- Jacobs Engineering Group received a follow-on contract to provide advisory and assistance services for the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The Technical and Engineering Acquisition Support (TEAS) 6 contract contains a ceiling of $662 million, and has a total ordering period of three years, beginning Dec. 11.

Jacobs provides technical expertise to help AAC develop, acquire, test, deploy and sustain air delivered munitions. Work includes systems engineering and integration support of virtually all Air Force air-launched weapon systems; test and training range systems; and numerous air combat support systems.

The Air Armament Center is being eliminated in a restructuring, but the base will continue to have a directorate and remain the Air Force's center for aerial weapons development. The contractor said the restructuring will have no impact on the contract.

- A bomb developed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is a featured weapon in a video game. A
digital version of the Massive Ordinance Air Blast, or MOAB, is a featured weapon in the game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3," for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows. When the 30-foot, 21,600-pound MOAB was developed in 2003, it was the largest non-nuclear weapon in the Air Force’s inventory. It was detonated at Eglin twice. (Story)

AMR, parent of American Airlines, the nation's third largest airline, filed for chapter 11
bankruptcy during the past week. The company said that American, American Eagle and all other subsidiaries will operate normal flight schedules during the bankruptcy filing process.

American serves Mobile (Ala.) Regional Airport, Pensacola (Fla.) International Airport, Gulfport-Biloxi (Miss.) International Airport, New Orleans International Airport and Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Valparaiso, Fla.

- A building permit was issued for a $6.1 million terminal and hangar at Stennis International Airport in Hancock County, Miss. GM&R Construction Co. of Bay St. Louis was the successful bidder. The project is for a 10,000-square foot, two-story terminal and 24,000-square foot hangar. The airport supports business and executive jets and military flight training, and is used by Roll-Royce to support engine testing at Stennis Space Center.

Unmanned systems
The second Northrop Grumman unmanned X-47B fighter logged its first flight Nov. 22 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Air Vehicle 2 (AV-2) climbed to 5,000 feet, flew racetrack patterns and landed after a half-hour flight. The X-47B is being developed for the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration program. The tailless AV-2 autonomous aircraft is powered by Pratt & Whitney’s F100-PW-220U engine and exhaust system.

- The Navy's first composite squadron equipped with manned and unmanned helicopters for expeditionary missions will form in San Diego next year. Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 35 "Magicians" will be the first to support littoral combat ships and other ships with both the manned MH-60R Seahawk and unmanned MQ-8B Fire Scout. The composite squadron will deploy detachments of both aircraft to LCSs, cruisers, destroyers and frigates, according to Navy Times.

The Gulf Coast region is heavily involved in unmanned systems, and Mobile, Ala., is where one version of the LCS is being built by Austal USA.

- Raytheon has completed captive carry tests of its Small Tactical Munition Phase II configuration, paving the way for flight tests of the bombs for Shadow-class unmanned systems. The 12-pound, 22-inch, precision-guided, gravity-dropped bomb is designed to engage moving and static targets, and can be used by manned and unmanned aircraft. It has foldable fins and wings, enabling deployment from common launch tubes.

Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $125.9 million contract for 4,977 Lot 16 Guided Vehicle kits procured for Joint Direct Attack Munition purposes. The JDAM is a strap-on kit with Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System capability. This procurement action is an option exercised as a separate contract. ACC/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … GCC/Thomco 1, LLC JV, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and CCI Group, LLC, Shalimar, Fla., were awarded a $10 million contract for Simplified Acquisition of Base Engineering Requirements maintenance, repair, and minor construction efforts. Work will be performed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. AAC/PKO, Eglin Air Force Base is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $19.6 million contract to provide High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile Targeting System (HTS) contractor logistics support depot support for the HTS pod. AAC/EBAS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

- Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $46 million contract modification to previously awarded contract to procure long lead time material and related support for DDG 1002 products construction. Twenty-eight percent of the work will be done in Pascagoula, Miss. Work is expected to complete by March 2012.

- Huntington Ingalls' shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., plans to reduce its workforce by 500 people. A "voluntary reduction-in-force offer" will be made to all non-union Ingalls Shipbuilding employees in Pascagoula. Jobs would include engineers or those who work in the human resources or finance department, among others. The company blamed it on cost pressures in anticipation of declining shipbuilding budgets. (Story)

- The attack submarine USS Mississippi was christened Saturday in a ceremony at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn. The ship, the fifth to be named after the state, is scheduled to be commissioned in Gulfport, Miss., June 2, 2012.

- Union workers at Ingalls shipyard during the week voted to extend their current labor contract for three years. Workers will get a $1,000 bonus before Christmas and three raises over the next three years. The contract applies to the Pascagoula and Gulfport yards as well as Avondale, La. (Story)

- The U.S. Coast Guard during the week conducted pollution response training for the deployment of the Spilled Oil Recovery System in Pensacola Bay. Members from the Eighth Coast Guard District Response Advisory Team, Coast Guard Gulf Strike Team and Coast Guard Sector Mobile, Ala., deployed aboard the USCG Cutter Cypress, a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender homeported in Mobile.

- The Coast Guard announced the launch of its third Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter,
the William Flores, at Bollinger Shipyards, Lockport, La. The launch of the 154-foot cutter marks a production milestone as the Fast Response Cutter readies for sea trials, delivery, crew training and eventual commissioning. The William Flores is scheduled to be delivered and commissioned in 2012. The cutter will be homeported in Miami.

- The International WorkBoat Show, dubbed the largest maritime trade show in North America, was held during the week at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. The event had over 1,000 exhibitors covering more than 200,000 square feet. There was also a separate one-day summit that included networking opportunities.