Saturday, March 31, 2012

Week in review (3/25 to 3/31)

United Technologies' proposed purchase of Goodrich is causing some concerns in Europe. The European Commission fears that the combined company could be too dominant in engine controls and power generators.

UT unveiled the $16.5 billion takeover in September last year, which would reinforce its presence in the civilian aerospace market. Goodrich parts are used on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus' A320neo. The closer look by the EU could last until August.

Hartford, Conn.-based UT's aviation activities include Sikorsky and Pratt and Whitney, and it makes an array of products, including rocket engines, helicopters and elevators. Charlotte, N.C.-based Goodrich makes aircraft equipment including landing gears and electrical power systems.

UT's Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, which the company has said it wants to sell, has an operation at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Goodrich has a service center in Foley, Ala. (Post)

Speaking of Rocketdyne, the five F-1 engines that powered the first stage of the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 11 for its rendezvous with the moon have been found in the Atlantic Ocean.

Bezos Expeditions, owned by founder Jeff Bezos, believes it located the engines that dropped into the Atlantic after boosting the rocket. Bezos said he hopes to raise one or more of the engines, which are owned by NASA, to put on display.

The five engines, built in California, were assembled into the first stage at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The engines were tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

The five-engine F-1 cluster was test-fired for the first time at SSC in March 1967. With 7.5 million pounds of thrust, it shattered windows in nearby communities despite SSC's huge buffer zone. (Post)

The aforementioned Bezos is also the founder of Blue Origin of Kent, Wash., which in April will test its BE-3 engine thrust chamber assembly at Stennis Space Center’s E-1 test stand. Blue Origin is one of the companies that plans to do some of the low-Earth orbit work formally done by NASA.

OK, talking about rocket engines is a good way to get into this next topic: space debris.

Let’s face it, we're good at littering. If you think it's not a problem given the vast reaches of space, well, that's true if you're in the vast reaches of space. But we're working much closer to Earth -- think of it as being near the shoreline. And in that realm there's a lot of stuff orbiting this planet. It includes stuff we're currently using as well stuff that's no longer serving a purpose.

According to NASA, there's 21,000 orbital debris larger than 10 cm, or 3.9 inches. Another 500,000 particles are between 1 and 10 cm and more than 100 million particles are smaller than 1 cm. Still, they are traveling so fast they can cause damage.

NASA points out that the higher the altitude, the longer the orbital debris will typically remain in Earth orbit. Debris left in orbits below 600 km normally fall back to Earth within several years. At altitudes of 800 km, the time for orbital decay is measured in decades. Above 1,000 km, orbital debris will normally continue circling the Earth for a century or more.

The concern here is for what's called the "Kessler Syndrome." The more debris, the better the chances for collisions, and the more collisions, the more debris.

The U.S. Air Force tracks space debris swirling around the planet. Here on the Gulf Coast the 20th Space Control Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., uses the world's most powerful radar to track all that movement.

But according to Aviation Week, some of the world's biggest commercial satellite operators are sharing data to help prevent collisions. They've formed the Space Data Association to create computer tools that help space situational awareness. (Post)

I don't know whether another organization to track space debris is needed or not. But I can tell you that the Space Data Association has a pretty nifty video that shows the growth of space debris since 1957. Click here to take a look.

While we're talking about high flying things, much closer to the Earth Eglin Air Force Base's two F-35 pilots have slowly increased the number of sorties, called local area orientation flights, around the base in Northwest Florida since flight operations began March 6, according to Flightglobal.

The two pilots are flying the local sorties to gauge the readiness of the 33rd Fighter Wing's new F-35A, a conventional take-off and landing variant. Eglin will train pilots and maintainers from all branches of the services that will use the F-35, as well as pilots and maintainers from foreign purchasers. (Post)

The government projects that the total cost to develop, buy and operate the F-35 will be $1.45 trillion over 50-plus years, according to a Pentagon document obtained by Reuters. The estimate is up from about $1 trillion a year ago, and includes inflation, a third of the projected F-35 operating costs.

Military officials and industry executives point out that no other weapons program's costs have been calculated over such a long period. (Post)

If you follow the industry, you know the F-35 isn't the only aircraft that's been under scrutiny. The F-22 Raptor is still causing some pretty smart people to scratch their heads. The Air Force Scientific Advisory Board can't explain what caused blackouts and dizziness among pilots flying F-22s.

A separate investigation of the oxygen problem by Lockheed Martin is continuing. The F-22 is considered safe and continues to fly, with pilots using sensors, filters and other safety steps to mitigate potential problems.

In this region, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., is the home of the 325th Fighter Wing, whose primary mission is to provide air training for F-22 pilots, as well as maintenance personnel and air battle managers. (Post)

Advanced materials
A self-repairing plastic that turns red to show it's damaged could be important for the aerospace industry, as well as for other large structures. Self-healing plastic isn't a new concept, but researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss., developed one that keeps repairing itself.

Professor Marek Urban presented the results of the research at the national meeting and exposition of the American Chemical Society in San Diego, Calif., during the past week. The research is partly funded by the Department of Defense. (Post)

Remote sensing
The Naval Oceanographic Office, based at Stennis Space Center, Miss., has been using airborne laser and imagery systems since early February for hydrographic surveys in the coastal waters of Belize. It's part of a long-term project to survey the western Caribbean Sea off the coasts of Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The surveys are designed to improve safety of navigation by mapping the seafloor and locating shallow reefs and other obstructions in the approaches to Belize's major ports. The airborne laser system, called Compact Hydrographic Airborne Rapid Total Survey (CHARTS), uses light to map the bottom.

The CHARTS program is run by the Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetry Technical Center of Expertise at Stennis International Airport in Kiln, Miss., right outside Stennis Space Center. (Post)

NVision, a Mississippi company that partnered with Stennis Space Center to create a disaster information system, is one of seven companies that were highlighted in the 2012 NASA Technology Day on Capitol Hill during the week.

NVision, at the Stennis Technology Park adjacent to SSC, teamed with NASA to create the Real-time Emergency Action Coordination Tool, which incorporates maps, reports, Internet-driven data and real-time sensor date into a geographical information system-based display to provide information during emergency and disaster situations. (Post)

-- Aircraft company LSI’s Pensacola, Fla., branch operation had a ribbon-cutting during the week for its newest expansion, according to the Pensacola News Journal. The company retrofits helicopters for the military to use as training platforms. LSI operates out of a 20,000 square foot building and is expanding into a recently completed 12,000 square foot adjacent building. The company has said it expects to add 20 workers over the next year to the 40 now working there. LSI is based in Jacksonville, Fla.

Airports in Northwest Florida had a higher passenger count in February after two months of decline. That's according to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport Executive Director John Wheat. Pensacola International Airport has the largest market share at 40.7 percent, followed by Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport at West Bay with 20.8 percent, Tallahassee Regional Airport at 20.2 percent and Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base with 18.3 percent, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

-- Bruce Simpson, executive director of the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is retiring April 3 after a 31-year tenure, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. As head of AAC, Simpson was the center acquisition chief in charge of buying and developing weapons systems and the top-ranking civilian on base. His retirement comes on the eve of a planned reorganization. The Air Force plans to merge the Air Armament Center and two other centers into the new Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (Post)

Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $497 million contract to procure missiles, instrumentation units, test equipment, guidance sections, hardware, and contractor logistics support. AAC/EBAC, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Sequestration: The Pentagon would expect hundreds of thousands of layoffs across the defense industry if lawmakers don't act to avert an additional $500 billion in defense budget cuts that could take effect in January 2013. The cuts would force the Pentagon to break many contracts, including the Navy's contracts with Lockheed Martin and Austal USA for littoral combat ships. (Post)

HII: Huntington Ingalls Industries during the week marked its first year of operations after its spinoff from Northrop Grumman. Huntington Ingalls has two sectors: a Newport News facility in Virginia and Ingalls Shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast, which oversees the Pascagoula, Miss., yard, a composite yard in Gulfport, Miss., and an Avondale, La., yard that will close next year. (Post)

Contracts: General Dynamics Information Technology, Herndon, Va., was awarded a $27 million contract for information technology engineering and mission sustainment services in support of the commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, Stennis Space Center, Miss. Sixty percent of the work will be done at SSC. ... Ingalls Shipbuilding division was awarded a $76 million contract from the U.S. Coast Guard to purchase long-lead materials for a sixth National Security Cutter. Construction and delivery of the yet-to-be-named WMSL 755 will be performed at the company's Pascagoula facility.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Week in review (3/18 to 3/24)

A gentleman from Rolls Royce made an interesting comment earlier this month when discussing that company's engine-testing activities at Stennis Space Center, Miss. According to the Sun Herald, he said it's easier to get people from outside this country to come to Mississippi than to get people from the United States to move there.

I mentioned that comment to a university official when I was talking to him about space activities in the region, and he agreed that it's still a problem getting people to understand some of the cutting-edge work done in Mississippi. I told him that a high-ranking NASA official once told me that it's only after people come down for a visit that they understand "we're not just dirt roads."

Getting outsiders to understand is one thing. But I'll take it a step further. I'm not sure people in this region understand what's here. The aerospace industry and its footprint in this region is a perfect example. During the Aerospace Alliance Summit in Sandestin, Fla., last year, I was sitting at a table with a gentleman from a major defense company who works at Stennis Space Center. He said he didn't know that Global Hawk and Fire Scout UAVs are built to the east of SSC in Moss Point, Miss.

In an age where we're inundated with information -- often trivial things that occupy our time rather than engage our minds -- it's getting increasingly difficult to be heard above the noise. Old stereotypes and bad publicity in recent years from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, leave a lasting impression that's hard to overcome.

That's the real purpose of this column, to show we're far more than what people picture.

Now for the week in review:

Lawmakers are taking issue with the Pentagon over the request for two new BRAC rounds. One reason is the cost at a time of belt tightening. Savings won't come for years.

Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Armed Services' Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, denounced the Pentagon's request for a base closure round in 2013. McCaskill said she's willing to allow the closure of bases overseas, but not domestic bases at this point.

For its part, the Pentagon has said the request for two new rounds of BRAC should be compared to the cost effectiveness of the first four BRAC rounds, not those done in 2005 to transform installations to match force structure. The issue is of high interest to the Interstate 10 region, where the military is a major pillar of this region’s economy. (Post)

NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi hopes to get a company interested in the E-4 Test Facility. Stennis Engineering and Test Directorate Associate Director John Stealey said the under-utilized test stand is a "great opportunity" for a company interested in a partnership with NASA.

The federal agency first indicated in November that it was interested in marketing the facility, which includes a high-bay work area, control room space, personnel offices and concrete test cells. It also has road and barge canal access and utilities, and can be expanded for future needs. (Post)

-- Testing of a vital component for the brand new A-3 test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss., uncovered a flaw in the chemical steam generator (CSG). During tests at the E-2 facility, technicians found the two-inch angle-globe valves supplied with the unit were unable to stand up to operating conditions. The procurement office is issuing a request for proposal from small businesses for 27 liquid oxygen (LOX) valves, 27 isopropyl alcohol (IPA) valves and related items.

The new A-3 test stand will use nine three-module CSG units to generate superheated steam needed to create a vacuum that allows operators to test next-generation rocket engines at simulated high altitudes up to 100,000 feet. (Post)

-- A Web tool that tracks threats to the nation's forests has been released by the Forest Service. Called ForWarn, it's a satellite-based monitoring and assessment tool that can detect threats from fire, disease or other causes before the threat increases in severity or extent.

It provides information on weekly changes in forest canopy conditions as they are impacted by insects, diseases, wildfires or extreme weather events. NASA's Stennis Space Center worked with the Forest Service to develop the system that covers 747 million acres of forest in the United States. (Post)

-- The first Space Based Infrared System geosynchronous earth orbit satellite is exceeding performance requirements in a series of tests. SBIRS GEO 1 was launched by an Atlas V in May 2011 from Florida. Within two months it began sharing initial data with mission partners to determine performance.

Sensors are detecting targets 25 percent dimmer than requirements, and payload pointing is nine times more precise than required. SBIRS provides early missile warning capability and improves other critical mission areas.SBIRS is an A2100 satellite-based spacecraft, and work on the A2100 core's propulsion system, which positions the spacecraft in orbit, is done at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

New project
Brazil's Embraer is establishing an aviation research, development and design center in Melbourne, Fla., that will employ 200 engineers and skilled workers and will initially focus on business jet interior design work.

The 67,000-square-foot Embraer Engineering and Technology Center will be adjacent to Embraer's new 80,000-square-foot business jet final assembly plant at Melbourne International Airport. The first assembly plant outside Brazil last year began assembling Phenom 100 and 300 business jets.

For the design center, Space Florida, a state-backed economic development agency, will build and own the facility and finance $18.2 million for the project. Another $6 million will come from the Florida Innovation Fund. (Stories: Reuters, Flightglobal)

It's still unclear at this point if Embraer, the world's third largest producer of commercial aircraft, will be building Super Tucano A-29 light support aircraft in Jacksonville. The Air Force canceled a $355 million contract to Sierra Nevade Corp. and Embraer after Wichita-based Hawker Beechcraft protested the December award. Hawker’s AT-6 was kept out of the competition. (Post)

By the way, if you're interested in "connections," the AT-6 I just mentioned became the first fixed-wing aircraft to launch a laser-guided rocket during a test at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The rockets were BAE System's Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System and Raytheon's TALON. (Post)

US Airways decided to add a second Northwest Florida Regional Airport to Ronald Regan Washington National Airport service even before the first one got under way. The first flight, a late afternoon flight, begins Sunday on a 50-seat regional jet. But beginning July 11 a morning flight will be added. The airport is at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

-- The Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team is back in Pensacola after 12 weeks of training in El Centro, Calif. The team's practice sessions are open to the public. Regular practice takes place most Tuesdays and Wednesday through November. (Post)

In Florida, Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division scientists and engineers have designed unmanned system controllers for a younger generation of sailor raised on video-game controllers. The proof-of-concept uses an Xbox Kinect to deliver gesture-based robotic controls.

Gesture-based robot control and similar approaches that utilize "human-centric" interaction with unmanned-systems opens a door to the future of effective human-robot teams in which communication is natural. Speech, gestures, and facial expressions, are intuitive and can reduce training requirements. (Post)

-- At the Army's Aberdeen Test Center, the Naval Research Laboratory successfully demonstrated the robotic fluids transfer from a stationary platform to an unmanned surface vehicle in wave heights greater than three feet.

The Rapid Autonomous Fuel Transfer project was able to track the motion of a Sea Fox naval vessel, emplace a magnetic refueling fitting to an on-board receptacle and complete fluids transfer. Further robotic transfer tests may include land-based autonomous vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicle. (Post)

A robotic refueling system has also been tested by researchers at the Air Force Research Laboratory's Airbase Technologies Division, Robotics Research Team at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The idea is to come up with an alternative to manual refueling, reducing the number of people needed near each aircraft during 'hot-pit refueling' when one of more of the engines are running.

-- NASA and General Motors are jointly developing a robotic glove that astronauts and autoworkers can wear to help do their jobs better while potentially reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries. The Human Grasp Assist device, called the K-glove or Robo-Glove, resulted from NASA and GM's Robonaut 2 project, which launched the first humanoid robot into space in 2011.

R2 is a permanent resident of the International Space Station, and one of the Robonaut's requirements was an ability to operate tools designed for human. The glove uses a combination of sensors and actuators to achieve dexterity. Continuous gripping of a tool can cause fatigue, but a grip can be held longer with Robo-Glove. (Story)

Speaking of R2, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla., has been involved in coming up with a locomotion system for Robonaut 2. You can read a background story that appeared in an April 2011 science and technology newsletter by clicking here.

The future USS Zumwalt completed a major developmental test during the week when it demonstrated the integration of the engineering control system software and the ship's integrated power system. The test, which marks the successful completion of the second of two developmental tests, verified the software and hardware compatibility and interoperability between the ECS hardware and the IPS.

Bath Iron Works in Maine is building the Zumwalt, but the Ingalls composite center of excellence in Gulfport, Miss., builds composite deckhouse and hangars for the ship and the Pascagoula yard builds steel units that support the composite deliveries and the aft peripheral vertical launch system ship sections. (Post)

-- Shipbuilder Austal USA of Mobile, Ala., earned the Award for Excellence in Safety from the Shipbuilders Council of America, a national trade association of the shipbuilding industry. Austal builds littoral combat ships and joint high-speed vessels for the U.S. military. (Post)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Week in review (3/11 to 3/17)

A merger and sale that will impact some big players in this region, the successful flight of an Eglin F-35, the re-establishment of a council in Mississippi to protect that state's bases, and multiple contract awards were some of the Gulf Coast-related aerospace news items that moved during the past week.

Here’s the week in review:

Merger and sale
It's official now. United Technologies of Hartford, Conn., said during the week that engine maker Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne is for sale. The parent company is selling Pratt and Whitney to help finance its $16.5 billion purchase of aerospace supplier Goodrich Corp. (Post)

During the week Goodrich Corp. shareholders approved the proposed merger. More than 98 percent of votes were cast in favor of the transaction. Once the merger is complete, Goodrich will become a wholly owned subsidiary of United Technologies. (Post)

Goodrich operates the Alabama Service Center in Foley, Ala., and with the merger that operation will become part of an international conglomerate that includes helicopter-make Sikorsky.

As for Rocketdyne, being sold is nothing new. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Rocketdyne was formed after World War II by North American Aviation, which later merged with Rockwell International. That company became part of Boeing, which in 2005 sold it to United Technologies.

Rocketdyne, headquartered in Canoga Park, Calif., has operations in Florida, Alabama, and at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. At SSC the company is best known for testing the RS-25 engines that powered the now-canceled Space Shuttle. Those engines will be used for NASA's Space Launch System. Rocketdyne at SSC also assembles and tests the J-2X, which also will be used in the SLS.

Jim Maser, president of Rocketdyne, said he doesn't see the sale making a major impact on the company's business strategy.

Speaking of Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, the company completed mission-duration hot-fire tests on a launch abort engine earlier this month in Canoga Park, Calif. The engine is for Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft. Boeing's Crew Space Transportation system is a reusable, capsule-shaped spacecraft designed to take up to seven people or cargo to low Earth orbit. (Post)

The abort propulsion system is designed to push the crew capsule to safety if an abort becomes necessary during launch or ascent. The CST-100 is compatible with the Atlas V, Delta IV and Falcon 9 launch vehicles. The RS-68 engine, a Rocketdyne product, is assembled and tested at SSC for United Launch Alliance's Delta IV.

- While we're on the subject of propulsion systems, a sub-scale solid rocket motor designed to mimic NASA's Space Launch System booster design was successfully tested during the week at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. (Post)

The 20-second firing tested new insulation materials on the 24-inch-diameter, 109-inch-long motor. The motor is a scaled down, low-cost replica of the solid rocket motors that will boost SLS off the launch pad.

ATK of Brigham City, Utah, is the prime contractor for the booster. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans builds the Orion crew capsule for the SLS and SSC in Mississippi will test the RS-25 and J-2X engines for the SLS.

The first Eglin F-35 flight was cut short by a fuel leak, but the stealthy fighter had a successful second flight during the past week. U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Joseph Bachmann flew the 93-minute local orientation flight in aircraft AF-13. The F-35 Integrated Training Center at Eglin is scheduled to train about 100 F-35 pilots and 2,200 maintainers annually. (Post)

While on the subject of the F-35, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded two contracts during the week in connection with the F-35 program.

One was a $56.3 million modification to a previously awarded contract to provide more funding for the sustainment effort necessary to meet the requirements and delivery schedule for the F-35 Low Rate Initial Production V. Sixty percent of the work will be done at Eglin.

Lockheed Martin also was awarded a $38.6 million modification to the previously awarded low rate initial production Lot 6 advance acquisition contract to provide more funding for the procurement of long lead items for F-35 low rate initial production conventional take-off and landing aircraft for the Air Force and the governments of Italy and Australia.

The Mississippi Military Communities Council has been re-established by Gov. Phil Bryant. The commission will advise Bryant and staff on legislative issues that could impact Mississippi's bases as well as "promote Mississippi's military missions at the national level" and develop growth opportunities. (Post)

Two new Base Realignment and Closure rounds are expected in the coming years. South Mississippi has military aviation activities at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Gulfport International Airport and Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg. South Mississippi is also home to a Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport and has a large Navy presence at NASA's Stennis Space Center.

Direct Air, which said last month that it will provide three non-stop flights a week beginning June 15 between Gulfport, Miss., and Lakeland, Fla., suspended operations for two months. The Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based air carrier is working through contract issues with a fuel provider, officials said. (Post)

- About 90 percent of workers at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., will stay home later this week as the base enacts tight security measures as part of a preparedness exercise. Access to most base facilities will be unavailable from noon Thursday until noon Saturday. Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla., will also be participating. (Post)

- The Air Force's 23rd Flying Training Squadron at Fort Rucker, Ala., named its new consolidated operations center after Maj. Randell Voas, a CV-22 Osprey pilot. He died April 9, 2010, near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in a crash during a combat operation. Voas, stationed at Hurlburt Field, Fla., at the time of the crash, had been a pilot instructor for the 23rd at Fort Rucker. (Post)

Unmanned systems
The Naval Research Laboratory, which has a major operation at Stennis Space Center, Miss., held a ribbon cutting for its Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research in Washington, D.C., during the week. The lab will focus on autonomous systems research for the Navy and Marine Corps. (Post)

The one-of-a-kind lab has specialized facilities to support research in intelligent autonomy, sensor systems, power and energy systems, human-system interaction, networking and communications and platforms. It has multiple bays providing environments from desert to littoral and more.

The Gulf Coast region is highly interested in unmanned systems. Fire Scout and Global Hawk unmanned aerial systems are built in Moss Point, Miss., by Northrop Grumman. There are also multiple UAV-related activities here. In addition, a lab in Pensacola, Fla., does research on artificial intelligence and human-machine interaction.

Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. was awarded its first option year by NASA for its Manufacturing Support and Facility Operations Contract at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The option year has a potential value of $137 million. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $21.2 million modification to a previously awarded contract for logistics services support of 119 TH-57B/TH-57C aircraft. Work will be performed at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Fla. … Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $7 million contract for 18 range safety systems with jammer compatibility for Low Rate Initial Production 3, Reliability Assessment Program and initial operational flight tests. AAC/EBJM, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Contracts for four more Littoral Combat Ships were awarded by the Navy Friday. Lockheed Martin received $715 million for two ships and Austal USA, of Mobile, Ala., received $691.6 million for two ships. (Post) Austal also was awarded a $19.7 million contract modification exercising options for special studies, analyses, review and class service efforts for the LCS program. Seventy-two percent of the work will be performed in Mobile. (Post)

- Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors, Moorestown, N.J., won a $20 million contract modification exercising an option for integration, installation, and testing of the Aegis combat system on DDG 51-class ships. Twenty-two percent of the work will be performed in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

- ITT Exelis has completed its first overhaul of a mine-sweeping system for the U.S. Navy. The Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, Fla., awarded the contract in 2009. The refurbishment extends the life of this MK-105 Mod 4 Airborne Mine Countermeasure Influence Sweep unit for another 10 years. (Post)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Week in review (3/4 to 3/10)

Loose fasteners that shortened the first flight of an Eglin F-35, the spectre of using an Eglin-developed bunker-buster bomb, the opening of a public comment period about UAV test sites, the cut of one squadron at Eglin and the move of helicopters to Duke Field, and a robot fire fighter that will be tested in Mobile were some of the aerospace news items of interest to the Gulf Coast during the week.

Here's the week in review:

Three loose fasteners caused the fuel leak that shortened the first flight of an Eglin F-35 during the week. The 90-minute flight was cut to 15 when the pilot of a chase plane saw the leak. Maintainers also found residual water from an earlier wash of the aircraft. The F-35 is expected to fly this week. Eglin, in northwest Florida, is home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center, which will train all aviators and maintainers from all three branches of service that will use the F-35. (Post)

The 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a bomb designed to penetrate deep in the ground before exploding, is one of the weapons in an arsenal that could be used in a clash with Iran over its nuclear program. That's what Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, told a conference on U.S. defense programs during the week. Eglin Air Force Base in northwest Florida was involved in the development of the bunker-buster penetrator. The base was also involved in the developed the Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb. (Post)

J-2X engine 10001 during the week was moved back to the A-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., for a second round of tests. Both the engine and test stand have been modified to begin simulated altitude testing in the coming months. The J-2X, which will provide upper-stage power for NASA's Space Launch System, is built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. (Post)

Meanwhile, some 40 miles away at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, the initial construction of the Orion Exploration Flight Test-1 vehicle is nearing completion. EFT-1 will launch in 2014 from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., by a United Launch Alliance Delta IV. Orion, which will fly 3,600 miles above Earth in the test, is designed to carry astronauts into deep space. It will eventually be launched by NASA's Space Launch System. The SLS engines are being tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss., which also tests the RS-68 rocket engines for the Delta IV. (Post)

OK, here's one that’s not aerospace, but it is robotic and that's a field of high interest to the Gulf Coast region since we build and fly unmanned aerial systems in this region. And besides, it involves Mobile, Ala., and a unique test facility that’s been there for decades.

The humanoid robot, Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot or SAFFiR, is being developed to fight shipboard fires. The robot, filled with sensors and armed with fire suppressors, is designed to interact with people, even responding to gestures, and make decisions on its own if needed.

Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory formed a team to develop SAFFiR, which will be tested aboard the ex-USS Shadwell in Mobile in late September 2013. The 457-foot World War II-era Shadwell, officially called the Full Scale Fire Test Facility, is where full-scale fire and damage control tests are conducted in a realistic ship environment. The Shadwell is at 50-acre Little Sand Island in upper Mobile Bay. (Post)

Speaking of robots, the Federal Aviation Administration is seeking public comments on the agency's selection process for picking six unmanned aircraft system test sites around the United States. Comments are due by May 9. The sites will help the FAA develop the framework to govern the use of UAVs in the national airspace. Congress called for full integration by 2015. (Post)

Crewmember recovered
The body of the fourth crewmember of a Coast Guard helicopter that crashed in Mobile Bay was recovered during the week. It was flight mechanic Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Knight, recovered more than two miles southwest of the crash site. Four crewmen were aboard the MH-65C that was on a training mission out of the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile. (Post)

Cuts and changes
The 728th Air Control Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be decommissioned due to force structure changes. About 375 airmen are assigned to the squadron. Air Combat Command determined divesting the 728th is the most feasible option because it's not co-located with operational aircraft and live, air-to-air training opportunities are limited. The changes will take place Sept. 1. (Post)

Meanwhile, the 46th Test Wing's UH-1N Hueys have left Eglin main to join the 413th Flight Test Squadron's operating location eight miles north at Eglin's Duke Field. The helicopters will operate from Duke Field to allow the test wing to support a 250 percent increase in helicopter developmental test programs beginning in June. The move will centralize all Air Force helicopter developmental test and evaluation in one squadron. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $24.1 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the development of a data farm for the Joint Strike Fighter U.S. Reprogramming Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The data farm will interface with lab's prime mission equipment and is used to store software and data from the F-35 mission data testing. The ability to store and retrieve data is critical for mission data production which is vital to program execution.

BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards and Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., finished a four-month repair job on a Navy research vessel. The companies teamed to work on the Sea Fighter, an experimental vessel based out of Panama City, Fla., an aluminum catamaran that the Office of Naval Research uses to test technologies it will use on its littoral combat ships and joint high-speed vessels. (Post)

In Pascagoula, Miss., the Noble Max Smith rig that’s been under repair at Signal International's west shipyard was moved by the newest of Signet Maritime's tug fleet. The Signet Constellation and the Signet Stars & Stripes were used along with the tugs Daniel Colle, Natalie Colle and John Colle for the rig tow to Signal's east yard on Bayou Casotte. (Post)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Week in review (2/26 to 3/3)

The loss of four Coast Guard crewmen; the death of a Hurlburt officer in Afghanistan; approval of F-35 flights at Eglin Air Force Base; a new UAV center at Camp Shelby; F/A-18s training in Pensacola; and delivery of a satellite built in part at Stennis Space Center were just some of the news items of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region during the past week.

Here's the week in review:

The bodies of three crewmembers of a Coast Guard MH-65C helicopter that crashed during the week into Mobile Bay have been recovered. Dead are pilot Lt. Cmdr. Dale Taylor, co-pilot Lt. j.g. Thomas Cameron, rescue swimmer Fernando Jorge and flight mechanic Petty Officer 3rd Class Drew Knight, whose body has yet to be recovered. The helicopter was on a training mission out of the Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

- During the week we also learned that one of the two U.S. officers shot in the head at a ministry in Kabul, Afghanistan, was from Hurlburt Field, Fla. It was Lt. Col. John Darin Loftis, with the 866th Air Expeditionary Squadron. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said the killings were in retaliation for the burning of Korans. (Post)

Unmanned systems
Add another piece to the region's unmanned aerial vehicle activities. Camp Shelby, south of Hattiesburg, was selected as the site for a new $48 million regional flight center for the Army National Guard. It was chosen from 19 sites nationwide. The base has been used for tactical UAV training for deploying troops, but now it will have a permanent center. (Post)

- Flight tests are underway for the first developmental multifunction active sensor (MFAS) radar destined for the Navy's MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System, or BAMS. In addition, the wings and landing gear were installed on the first BAMS, a variant of the Global Hawk, at the company's Palmdale Manufacturing Center. BAMS central fuselage work is done in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

- Keep your eye on the Fire Scout line of unmanned aerial systems. The Navy's decision to cancel the Medium-Range Maritime Unmanned Aerial System program was bad news for Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which planned to propose the Hummingbird and K-MAX, respectively.

But a third player that was expected to compete for the MRMUAS program, Northrop Grumman, probably isn't too unhappy. That's because the Navy figured the MQ-8C, the larger version of the Fire Scout that uses a Bell 407 airframe, could fill the MRMUAS requirements just fine. (Flight Global, AOL Defense)

The savings are significant: $200 million cut from the FY13 budget and $1.3 billion over the next five years. You could almost see this coming. Back in December in the omnibus spending legislation, Congress set aside $191 million for the Navy to buy 12 C models. And that’s likely just the start. (Previous related post)

Motley Fool took up the issue and pointed out that Northrop Grumman's dominance in the UAV industry just keeps growing and growing (Motley Fool)

F-35As at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., are cleared to fly by both the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and the Air Education and Training Command in Texas. It's a crucial step towards the startup of training at Eglin's Joint Strike Fighter training center. In addition to six Air Force variants, Eglin is also home to three F-35B aircraft, the Marine Corps variant. (Post)

Sources tell Air Force Times that the F-35As will begin flight operations Tuesday, weather permitting. The base has two qualified test pilots, Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith and Marine Maj. Joseph Bachmann, who will serve as instructors for the rest of the wing's aviators. (Story)

- In another F-35 matter, the Air Force plans to reduce the number of bases where the F-35s will be based. It's a way to reduce the life-cycle cost. The Pentagon plans to reduce the number of operating bases for the F-35A from 40 to the low 30s. (Story)

Other aircraft
F/A-18 Hornets from Carrier Air Wing Seven are temporarily at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., while repairs are made to a landing field at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va. The Hornets will do field carrier landing practice at the Navy's Outlying Field Choctaw in nearby Santa Rosa County through March 10. (Post)

- The Air Force canceled a $355 million contract to Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nev., and Brazil's Embraer to build 20 Super Tucano A-29 light support aircraft, citing problems with documentation. Hawker Beechcraft of Wichita, Kansas, filed suit when its AT-6 was kept out of the competition. (Post)

- EADS North America delivered the 200th UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter to the U.S. Army during a ceremony at the American Eurocopter production facility in Columbus, Miss. It's the first production aircraft to be delivered with the new Security and Support Battalion Mission Equipment Package. (Post)

NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi hosted a breakfast during the week for community leaders from Mississippi and Louisiana. Patrick Scheuermann, director SSC, said the center where rocket engines are tested has a $1 billion impact on the region. The center also hosts activities from other federal and state agencies and commercial companies. The facilities engineering manager for the Rolls-Royce North America Outdoor Test Facility said it was the 125,000-acre acoustical buffer zone surrounding Stennis Space Center that prompted the company to pick South Mississippi to test airliner engines. (Post)

- Lockheed Martin delivered the second Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications satellite to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., where it will be readied for an April 2012 liftoff aboard an Atlas V. The AEHF system will replace the five-satellite Milstar constellation. Core propulsion work for the AEHF is done at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

- The Orion Parachute Test Vehicle has a successful parachute drop test in Yuma, Ariz., at the Army proving grounds. The vehicle was dropped from a C-17 aircraft for the test of the parachute system. (Story) The Orion crew vehicle is built at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

Military cuts
The Air Force is not migrating anything from Eglin Air Force Base, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. Plans to merge Eglin's 96th Wing and 46th Test Wing and put the new super wing under the command of a general at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., has caused concerns that the wing will eventually be moved to California. But Schwartz told the House Armed Services Committee, in response to a question by Rep. Jeff Miller, that "Nothing is migrating from Eglin with respect to the proposal for the Air Force Materiel Command reorganization." (Post)

Well something is changing for Eglin. Lt. Gen. C.D. Moore II was nominated to lead a new center that will be created in October as part of the Air Force Materiel Command’s restructuring. He'll command the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The center consolidates the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson, Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., and Air Armament Center at Eglin. (Post)

American Airlines soon will more than double flights between Northwest Florida Regional Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. American Eagle now flies to and from Dallas/Fort Worth three times a day during the week and twice a day on the weekend. Starting April 3, the airline will add four round-trip flights a day. (Post)

- Mobile Regional Airport is getting a $2.9 million facelift. The Airport Authority plans to install canopies along the front of the building made from the same pipe-and-plastic covering material used in front of the Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel in downtown Mobile. The facelift should take about seven months to complete. (Post)

Economic development
Alabama's governor says his administration is in constant contact with Airbus about establishing an assembly plant Mobile, but Gov. Robert Bentley said no active project exists and no formal negotiations have been conducted. Airbus parent, EADS, had hoped to build an aerial tanker assembly plant in Mobile, but those plans vanished when Boeing won the Air Force contract last year. Airbus has an engineering center and a service center for military aircraft in Mobile, and has expressed interest in establishing a plant in the United States. (Post)

- Four years after Northrop Grumman and EADS won a contract to build tankers for the Air Force – a contract canceled 11 days later – a termination fee is still in the works, according to Air Force Times. Under the 2008 award, EADS planned to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala. Work began on the airframes, but the contract was overturned and Boeing won the new competition. The Air Force still partly owns two Airbus A330 airframes built as part of the original contract. One is in storage in Spain and the other in France. Air Force officials said they expect the contract termination issues to be settled soon. (Post)

- Site Selection magazine ranked Baldwin County as the eighth most successful micropolitan area in the United States in 2011. The March online edition listed the county for expanding or attracting corporate entities. Among the projects that led to the listing was Aero-Mark MRO, a maintenance and repair aerospace company that located in the existing Fokker Airinc facility. (Post)

Boeing was awarded an $11.4 million contract from the Air Force, with the first delivery order worth $4.6 million to provide parts to be used to complete installation of 25mm Ammunition Storage and Handling Systems on four AC-130U gunships. The Boeing Fort Walton Beach facility will build the components for delivery to Robins Air Force Base, Ga. … Industria Paschen Group J.V., Chicago, Ill., was awarded a $48 million contract for simplified acquisition of base engineering requirements, such as minor, noncomplex construction projects, maintenance, alternation, or repair of real property at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and its associated sites. The 325th CONS/LGCC, Tyndall Air Force Base is the contracting activity.

The March 2012 issue of Seapower Magazine has a feature story on the work towards maintenance-free hulls. The Gulf Coast's Ingalls Shipbuilding, Austal USA and the University of New Orleans School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering are prominently featured in the story. Ingalls Shipbuilding’s Composite Center of Excellence in Gulfport, Miss., builds large composite structures for Navy ships, including the deckhouse and hangar for the DDG 1000. In Mobile, Ala., the second Littoral Combat Ship, USS Independence, features all-aluminum construction, as does the Joint High Speed Vessel. And at UNO's Welded Structures Laboratory, work is being done to find a better way for welding titanium. (Story)

- Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant will be in Pascagoula Monday for a news conference to
formally announce details of the commissioning of the USS Mississippi in Pascagoula in
June. About 5,000 people are expected to attend the June 2 event. (Post)

- The Naval Oceanographic Office Fleet Survey Team from Stennis Space Center, Miss., completed survey operations in the coastal waters of Cartagena, Colombia, late last month. The FST conducts about 14 surveys a year worldwide. (Post)