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)