Saturday, February 25, 2012

Week in review (2/19 to 2/25)

The loss of four Hurlburt Field airmen, more progress with the F-35, VIP visits to NAS Pensacola and Stennis Space Center, the elimination of a flying unit in New Orleans, the first flight of a Rolls-Royce XWB engine and plans for an unmanned version of the A-10 were just some of the aerospace stories during the week of interest to the Gulf Coast region.

Not forgotten
Four airmen from Hurlburt Field, Fla., with a combined 18 deployments, 3,100 combat hours and 20 years of service, died last weekend when their U-28A crashed near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa. It was at the end of what the Air Force called a routine mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Killed were Capt. Ryan P. Hall of Colorado Springs, Colo., with the 319th Special Operations Squadron; Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock of Newnan, Ga., and 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens of Bend, Ore., both with the 34th Special Operations Squadron; and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten of Upper Marlboro, Md., with the 25th Intelligence Squadron.

There were no other personnel aboard the single-engine aircraft.

Hall, 30, was a pilot and on his seventh deployment, and had more than 1,300 combat flight hours. He's joined the Air Force in 2004. Whitlock,29, also was a pilot and was on his fifth deployment. He had more than 800 combat flight hours and joined the Air Force in 2006. Wilkens, 26, was on his third deployment and had more than 400 combat hours. Scholten, 26, was on his third deployment and had more than 600 combat hours. Both joined the Air Force in 2009.

The Air Force 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field will hold a memorial service for the four airmen Tuesday.

In addition to those four airmen, the Northwest Florida Daily News reported Saturday that one of the two soldiers killed in protest over the burning of the Koran was Army Sgt. Joshua A. Born, of Niceville, Fla. Born and Cpl. Timothy J. Conrad Jr., of Roanoke, Va., both were shot in Afghanistan.

Unless you receive casualty reports from DoD on a regular basis, it's easy to forget that we have men and women who place their lives in danger every day in "routine" missions. As a veteran myself who comes from a family of veterans, I make it a point to read every one of these reports as my way of giving thanks. They deserve our deepest respect.

The Marine Corps during the week hosted a rollout ceremony to celebrate the January arrival of the F-35B, the short takeoff-vertical landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. Hundreds attended the event at Eglin Air Force Base in northwest Florida.

Eglin, which will train F-35 pilots and maintainers for all branches of the military and foreign allies, is home to the largest contingent of F-35s. There are six Air Force F-35A conventional landing and takoff versions and there F-35Bs, the vertical takeoff and landing variant. The planes started arriving at Eglin last year. Eventually, there will be 59 at the base.

For the Marines, the F-35 will replace the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler.

Officials at Eglin said Friday that military training flights could be approved by late March or early April, underscoring comments made earlier by Gen. Edward Rice, head of the Air Education and Training Command. He said at an Orland, Fla., conference that the F-35s could be flying in a matter of weeks.

- The first external weapons test mission was flown by an F-35A this month during a mission at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The Feb. 16 test involved an Air Force F-35 carrying two air-to-air AIM-9X missiles on the outboard wings stations, two GBU-31 guided bombs and two AIM-120 air-to-air missiles carried inside the weapons bays. The jet also had mounted four external pylons that can carry 2,000-pound air-to-ground weapons. No weapons were fired in the test. (Post)

- A Royal Air Force squadron leader became United Kingdom's first military test pilot to fly the F-35C carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. Jim Schofield said the F-35 is the best handling of any jet he's flown. His Feb. 21 flight at Patuxent River, Md., is the latest in a series of milestones for the UK's program, which included the first F-35C launch from an electromagnetic aircraft launch system. That system will be used in the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier now under construction. (Post)

- Lockheed Martin opened a new 57,000 square-foot facility in Pinellas Park, Fla., to produce canopy components for the F-35. The facility is an annex to Lockheed Martin's existing 197,000 square-foot building that's been making structural components for more than 10 aircraft since 1997. (Post)

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff paid a visit to several commands at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., during the week. He visited the Naval Education and Training Command, Training Air Wing 6, the Air Force 479th Flying Training Group and the National Museum of Naval Aviation. Dempsey also held a town hall meeting in the museum atrium. Topics included military transition, the defense budget, leadership, training and building the force of the future. (Post)

- While we’re on the topic of visits, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver was at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans during the week. She said the proposed NASA budget "will keep us on the cutting edge of the space program." She said the $17.7 billion budget allows NASA to continue to utilize the International Space Station and develop the space vehicles that will allow NASA to explore further into space than ever before. Stennis Space Center tests rocket engines for the Space Launch System and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans is involved in building the Orion crew vehicle and portions of the SLS. (Post)

While on the topic of SSC, here's another one with an SSC tie.
The Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine took to the skies for the first time, powering an Airbus A380 test aircraft in Toulouse, France. The aircraft flew with one of its four Trent 900 engines replaced by a Trent XWB. The Trent XWB will power the new Airbus A350 XWB.

The Trent XWB engine is tested at Stennis Space Center. (Post)

The Navy proposes to decommission a squadron at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse, eliminating a flying unit that focuses on stemming the flow of drugs to the United States, according to the Times Picayune. Under the 2013 spending plan released this week, the Navy Reserve’s Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 77 would cease to exist Sept. 30. VAW-77 has about 100 active duty and reserve Navy personnel and about 55 civilian contractors. (Post)

Raytheon picked Aurora Flight Sciences to join the team that will create an unmanned version of the battle-tested A-10. The Persistent Close Air Support program is funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. Other members of the team include Rockwell Collins and GE Aviation.

Aurora Flight Sciences has a UAV manufacturing center in Columbus, Miss.; Raytheon has multiple activities along the Gulf Coast; GE Aviation is building engine parts plants near Hattiesburg, Miss., and Auburn, Ala., and also operates a parts plant in Batesville, Miss. (Post)

- There was an interesting bit of news posted by DoD Buzz during the week about what may become of the Block 30 Global Hawks the Pentagon no longer wants. Those UAVs, along with the C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft, may be sold.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley at a press conference at an Air Force Association-sponsored conference in Orlando, said potential buyers are being contacted. The Air Force retired the relatively small fleet of brand new C-27Js and Block 30 Global Hawks as part of its efforts save billions of dollars in the coming years. (Story)

Composite Engineering Inc., Sacramento, Calif., was awarded a $32.7 million contract to procure a quantity of 35 BQM-167As, also known as the Air Force Subscale Aerial Target. The location of the performances is Sacramento, Calif. AAC/EBYK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, Fla., is expanding west into Gulf County. The company will lease 20 acres at a Port of St. Joe paper mill site to expand its shipbuilding and repair business. ESG is currently in the process of filling 500 new positions needed to meet current and future contract needs, according to The Star and Panama City News Herald. (Post)

- The proposed 2013 budget for the Coast Guard includes money for a sixth National Security Cutter, but nothing for a seventh and eighth vessel. The ships are built at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

- Three areas of the Gulf Coast region will benefit after Austal USA of Mobile, Ala., was awarded a $321.7 million modification to previously awarded contract for the exercise of construction options for Joint High Speed Vessels 8 and 9. Mobile will do 48 percent of the work, while 2 percent is done in Gulfport, Miss., and 1 percent in Slidell, La. Work is expected to be completed by April 2016. (Post)

- A contract was awarded to Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Miss. It's a $70 million cost-plus-fixed-fee modification to a previously awarded contract for advance procurement of long-lead-time materials in support of LPD 27, the 11th ship in the San Antonio (LPD 17) class. Work will be done in Pascagoula and is expected to be completed by April 2012. (Post)