Saturday, February 18, 2012

Week in review (2/12 to 2/18)

Intriguing indications that Mobile may eventually get a major aircraft assembly plant; a two-state push to create an industrial megasite between Panama City and Dothan; a new research lab at Eglin Air Force Base; and the first in a new series of rocket engine tests at Stennis Space Center were just some of the news items during the week of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region.

It was at an aerospace suppliers' conference near Seattle that talk turned to Airbus' continuing interest in establishing a production line in this country. No surprise there. EADS/Airbus has made clear that ongoing interest.

But a column by Dominic Gates of the Seattle Times had some intriguing details, including word that an announcement could be made this summer, and that 10 A320 jets will be build every month. He also said the favored site is Mobile, Ala. (Post)

If you follow the daily news feed, you know there have been plenty of stories indicating EADS/Airbus' interest in the United States. In January Hans Peter Ring, chief financial officer of EADS, said in an interview with Bloomberg that Airbus may add a final assembly line in the United States to increase visibility.

In September 2011, Sen. Richard Shelby told the Birmingham News that EADS is looking into whether it's feasible to build commercial planes in Mobile. That was after previous reports that both Boeing and Airbus had record orders, including American Airlines ordering 460 new single-aisle planes, 260 of them from Airbus, with options for more planes.

One intriguing announcements out of Singapore during the just-ended air show was that Airbus, ST Aerospace and EADS EFW will work together on a program to convert A330 passenger jets into cargo freighters. ST Aerospace will lead the engineering development and Germany's EADS EFW, which will become the European center for ST Aerospace's global maintenance, repair and overhaul operations, will carry out "most" of the conversions in Dresden. (Post)

About 900 conversions will be required over the next 20 years. Dresden will be able to convert 15-18 A330s a year, not enough to handle all the conversions. With ST Aerospace and Airbus in Mobile, is it possible some of this conversion work could come here?

- While on the topic of growth, GE Aviation's production rates are expected to grow from about 3,000 commercial and military engine deliveries in 2011 to 3,400 in 2012 and 3,800 in 2013, according to the company. By the end of the year GE Aviation will complete construction of a 300,000-square-foot factory in Ellisville, Miss., to make composite components for jet engines, and another 300,000 square-foot facility in Auburn, Ala., that will make machined parts for commercial and military engines. (Post)

Team work
Four economic development groups in two states are working together on a megasite along the Interstate 10 corridor on a road linking Dothan, Ala., to Panama City, Fla. The organizations are the Bay County Economic Development Alliance, Alabama Development Office, Enterprise Florida and the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, according to the Panama City News Herald. Neal Wade, executive director of the Bay EDA, said representatives from the organizations have been meeting for more than six months to prepare for the project along State 77 and I-10. (Post)

The Pentagon's 2013 budget calls for two rounds of base closings. One would be in 2013 and the other in 2015. The last Base Realignment and Closure round was in 2005, a round that brought additional activities to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

That could well be why the commander of the 96th Air Base Wing said Eglin said he isn't worried about hits from any upcoming BRAC. In fact, Col. Sal Nodjomian wants to base to take steps to ensure it can take in new missions.

Nodjomian made the comment while speaking during the week at the Leaders in Business Lunch organized by the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce. He also played down the decision announced in November to close the Air Armament Center and merge the 96th mission into the 46th Test Wing. He said the only impact for Eglin was the elimination of management positions, and that the combined 46th and 96th will be a "super wing" reporting to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (Post)

But I doubt his words were enough to convince a task force not to worry. Yes, it may be true that the only initial impact of putting the 46th under a two-star in California is minimal. But the first step when walking the plank is never bad.

The new High Pressure Particulate Physics Facility officially opened this month at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The facility was built to enhance the role of science and technology in smart munitions development, and contains a 60-mm smooth bore gun, complemented with high-resolution, high-precision, time-resolved diagnostics for use with various imaging technologies. The gun will be able to launch a few kilogram mass at high speed and will address basic questions on material behavior, as it relates to munition weapon systems and weapon effects. (Post)

The Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 light attack aircraft successfully fired laser-guided rockets during tests last month at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., making the AT-6 the first fixed-wing aircraft to launch a laser-guided rocket. The 2.75” laser-guided rocket testing included BAE Systems’ Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System and Raytheon’s TALON. The weapons were fired from about three nautical miles and guided to their targets using either an airborne laser from the AT-6 or a ground laser from the Eglin range. Hawker is fighting a decision by the Air Force to award a contract for light attach aircraft to Sierra Nevada and Embraer. A stop work order on the contract as issued after Hawker took the matter to federal court. (Post)

The Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command successfully completed a test flight of the new Economical Target-1, Feb. 15 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The Economical Target-1 missile was launched from the Santa Rosa Test Site with the support of the 46th Test Wing on Eglin into the ocean area within the test range. (Post)

While on the subject of testing, engineers at Stennis Space Center, Miss., conducted an initial test of the J-2X engine powerpack during the week, marking the first of a series of tests in development of the rocket engine that will help power the Space Launch System. The powerpack is on the top portion of the J-2X and includes the gas generator, oxygen and fuel turbopumps along with related ducts and valves. (Post)

Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 will host the Marine Corps' official F-35B Lightning II rollout ceremony this week at its hangar at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The F-35B is slated to replace the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler. Eglin Air Force Base is home to the F-35 training center for all branches of the military and allied nations that will be using the F-35. (Post)

A new direct flight will be offered between Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and the Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, Fla., beginning in June. The Sun Herald reports that the 90-minute flight will be offered three times a week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. A special promotional fare of $99 is being offered through Feb. 22. (Post)

Unmanned systems
Mississippi is a key player in the growing unmanned aerial systems field. In addition to the Global Hawks and Fire Scouts built in Moss Point, Mississippi has two other companies building four types of UAVs, as well as airspace where UAV flights are permitted and companies that work on sensors and advanced materials, both important to the industry. (Post)

The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded an $111.4 million contract for procurement of 4,844 joint direct attack munitions. The location of the performance is St. Charles, Mo. Work is expected to be completed by May 2014. AAC/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Jacobs Technology, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $36 million contract to provide for the technical and administrative services in support of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicle. Work will be performed in Kuwait and Afghanistan, Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, Texas and Georgia, and Indiana. … Jacobs Technology, Inc., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $157.2 million contract to provide for the systems engineering and technical assistance support services. Work will be performed in Virginia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, Kentucky, and Georgia.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the names of the next five Navy ships. Three Arleigh Burke class destroyers will be named the USS John Finn, the USS Ralph Johnson, and the USS Rafael Peralta, named after heroes in three different conflicts. The two littoral combat ships will be named after two American communities, the USS Sioux City and the USS Omaha. (Post)

Contracts: Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Bethpage, N.Y., was awarded an $18.8 million modification to previously awarded contract to provide engineering and production planning services for mission packages that will deploy from and integrate with the Littoral Combat Ship. Twenty percent of the work will be done in Panama City, Fla. ... Signal Ship Repair LLC, Mobile, Ala., was awarded a $14.5 million contract to provide for the services in support of engine replacements, engine auxiliary systems modification and repair of dredge wheeler. Work will be performed in Mobile, Ala.