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)