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.