Saturday, April 28, 2012

Week in review (4/22 to 4/28)

Work on manned and unmanned helicopters will be bringing about $160 million worth of work to the Gulf Coast region from contracts awarded during the week. In one, Northrop Grumman will build the latest version of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter in Moss Point, Miss., and in the other, Sikorsky will be doing maintenance work on helicopters in Pensacola and Milton.

That's part of some $440 million worth of contracts awarded this week that are of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region. The other big contract was for work on F-35s, some of which will eventually be based at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Here's the week in review, with links to posts and stories if you want more detailed information:

Unmanned systems
A $262.3 million contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman for work on eight Fire Scout unmanned helicopters. Nearly half the work will be done at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss.

The contract provides for the development, manufacture, and testing of two Fire Scout MQ-8C, the larger version of the Fire Scout that uses a Bell 407 airframe, and production of six others. Work is expected to be completed in May 2014. Moss Point is also the location where work is done on the smaller MQ-8B variant. (Post)

-- An SUV-sized white helium-filled blimp got attention in Panama City, Fla., during the week. The Aerostat, suspended 500 feet in the air, was tethered to a mobile base equipped with technology to operate unmanned vehicles from shore. The Aerostat acts as a satellite, relaying signals that would otherwise be out of range of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. (Post)

-- The Air Force isn't taking any drastic steps with the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 program, even though it's targeted for cancelation in the president's fiscal 2013 budget request. The Air Force's director for the Global Hawk program, said the service is not going to make any major changes until Congress acts.

The House Armed Services Committee mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013 includes $260 million towards keeping the Block 30s operational. It adds 560 personnel to the strength of the Air Force to maintain the 18 Block 30 UAVs. The president’s budget request provided no funds to operate the 18 drones. (Post)

The fate of Global Hawks is of interest to this region. The center fuselages are built in Moss Point, Miss.

Blue Origin, one of four companies working on technologies for commercial space transportation, successfully tested the design for its orbital spaceship in a series of wind-tunnel tryouts. More than 180 tests were done over the past several weeks at Lockheed Martin's High Speed Wind Tunnel Facility in Dallas.

Blue Origin, of Kent, Washington, soon will be conducting tests of the thrust chamber assembly for the BE-3 rocket engine recently installed on the E 1 complex test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada and Space X all are working on space transportation systems.

Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket was supposed to launch on a demonstration mission Monday from Cape Canaveral, Fla., but the launch is being delayed to allow for additional testing. It will take cargo in the Dragon capsule to the International Space Station as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. (Post)

Meanwhile, NASA on Thursday kicked off the next round of testing on the Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne J-2X rocket engine. The engine will power the second stage of its planned Space Launch System.

The test at the A-2 Stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss., was to gather data on the performance of the newly-installed engine nozzle extension and test stand "clamshell," as well as on the engine start and shutdown sequences. The nozzle extension and clamshell equipment allow operators to test the engine at simulated altitudes up to 50,000 feet. The engine will undergo 15 more tests this year. (Post)

Development of the Orion Crew Capsule that will sit atop the Space Launch System is also moving forward. The Orion Ground Test Vehicle is now at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Operations and Checkout Facility after traveling 1,800 miles from Lockheed Martin's Waterton Facility near Denver, Colo., where it completed a series of tests.

The ground test vehicle will be used for pathfinding operations at the O&C in preparation for the Orion spaceflight test vehicle's arrival this summer. The spaceflight vehicle is being fabricated at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, La., and is slated for NASA's Exploration Flight Test in 2014. (Post)

Under a draft version of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, the Air Force would have to keep a key research, development, test and evaluation facility at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., sponsored the language requiring the Air Force to retain the Air Armament Center at Eglin unless a future base closure action rules otherwise.

The Air Force is consolidating the Air Force Materiel Command's 12 centers into five, disestablishing the Air Armament Center and combining the 46th Test Wing and 96th Air Base Wing and having it report to the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Local officials fear reorganization is a precursor to moving the operations of the 46th Test Wing to Edwards. (Post)

-- Brig. Gen. David A. Harris, vice commander of the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be the commander of the 96th Test Wing, Air Force Materiel Command, at Eglin, the Air Force announced. Harris' assignment was one of 11 general officer assignments announced Friday by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. (Post)

-- The Department of Defense Explosive Ordnance Disposal community is hosting the Annual EOD Memorial Ceremony on May 5 at 9 a.m. at the EOD Memorial in Niceville, Fla. This year's keynote speaker is Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. The EOD Memorial Foundation was established in 1969 to honor the men and women of the EOD community, and the ceremony adding names is held each year. (Post)

-- Clay Williams has been named the new executive director of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, replacing Bruce Frallic, who will retire in August after serving as executive director of the Mississippi airport for 26 years. The Sun Herald reported that Williams currently works as a government relations representative for Capitol Resources LLC, managing the firm's Gulf Coast office. (Post)

Airbus vs Boeing
Boeing has the upper hand against rival Airbus in the battle to win an aircraft order from United Continental Holdings. The potential value is $15 billion. Sources told Reuters that
Boeing is the front-runner for orders for about 180 narrow body jets, and Bloomberg was
told by sources that Airbus has dropped out of the contest. Airbus has an engineering center in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Here's one of interest to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., home of the F-35 training center.

Assembly workers at the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, where the F-35s are built, went on strike during the week. Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 776 rejected Lockheed Martin’s final contract offer and walked off their jobs. (Post)

Despite that, Lockheed Martin was awarded two contracts totaling $114.2 million for the F-35. It was awarded a $68.2 million modification to the previously awarded F-35 Low Rate Initial Production II contract for changes to the configuration baseline hardware or software resulting from the JSF development effort. The modification applies to the Air Force and Marine Corps version of the F-35.

The company also was awarded a $45.9 million modification to the previously awarded F-35 Low Rate Initial Production III contract for changes to the configuration baseline hardware or software resulting from the JSF development effort. This modification applies to the Marine Corps and United Kingdom aircraft. (Post)

Work on both contracts will be done in Fort Worth, Texas.

Sikorsky Support Services Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a $63.3 million modification of a previously awarded contract for logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot-level maintenance on 179 T-34, 54 T-44, and 192 T-6 aircraft based primarily at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas; NAS Whiting Field, Fla.; and NAS Pensacola. Half the work will be in Corpus Christi, but 39 percent will be at Whiting Field, 8 percent in Pensacola and the rest in various sites within the continental United States. (Post)

LCS: A report from a watchdog group was highly critical of the Lockheed Martin version of the Littoral Combat Ship, and recommending dropping it in favor of the Austal USA variant built in Mobile, Ala. The Mobile Press Register had a story about it during the week. (Post)

Marine science: Mississippi State University's new Science and Technology Center at Stennis Space Center, Miss., is now home of the country's seventh National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Exploration Command Center. The center, using "telepresence technology," enables research scientists at sea and colleagues on shore to simultaneously view live video streams from underseas. (Post)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Week in review (4/15 to 4/21)

A decision on the number of engines that will power NASA's Space Launch System; more activity involving the F-35; two robotic systems with a Gulf Coast connection; a farewell to T-34 Turbo Mentors at Whiting Field; the retirement of a long-time airport chief; and a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico were among the Gulf Coast aerospace stories during the week.

Here's the week in review, with links to posts and stories if you want detailed information.

Engineers have settled on a four-engine cluster of RD-25D space shuttle engines to power the main stage of NASA's heavy-launch Space Launch System which is being developed for deep space exploration. They also considered a three and five-engine version.

Word of the decision came during the week from Boeing officials at the National Space Symposium in Colorado. After the RD-25D supply at Stennis Space Center, Miss., is used up, the throwaway RD-25E will be used. The RD-25 engines will be tested at Stennis, which tested all the main engines for the now-ended Space Shuttle program. Stennis, in south Mississippi close to the Mississippi-Louisiana state line, is also running tests on the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne J-2X that will be used in the second stage of the SLS.

The main stage of SLS will be assembled at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans using advanced friction-stir welders, and it probably will be built of aluminum lithium, officials say, though other alloys are possible. Michoud, by the way, also is building the Orion crew capsule that will sit atop the massive rocket. (Post)

NASA during the week successfully conducted a drop test of the Orion crew vehicle's entry, descent and landing parachutes in preparation for the vehicle's orbital flight test, Exploration Flight Test -1, in 2014. A C-130 dropped a dart-shaped test vehicle with a simulated Orion parachute compartment from an altitude of 25,000 feet above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. (Post)

The schedule right now has the first unmanned SLS flight slated for 2017. The first flight carrying the Lockheed Martin-developed Orion is slated for 2021. But before those launches we'll see the launch of commercial rockets that are part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

Orbital Science Corp. recently installed its medium-launch, two-stage Antares on the pad at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. (Story) The first stage will be powered by Aerojet AJ-26 engines tested at SSC. Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, is slated to launch its Dragon cargo carrier to the International Space Station on a Falcon 9 rocket at the end of this month. It will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (Story)

One side note to show the growing interest in commercial ventures into space. United Launch Alliance has formed a new organization that will focus on NASA's human spaceflight programs. ULA's Human Launch Services will be dedicated to supporting NASA and its partners in the development of capabilities to deliver U.S. astronauts to low-Earth orbit and human exploration beyond Earth Orbit. (Story) UAL is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and builds the Atlas and Delta rockets. Delta uses Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-68 engines assembled and tested at Stennis. ATK in Iuka, Miss., builds parts for the Delta rockets, and the manufacturing, assembly and integration operations are in Decatur, Ala.

There's always news about the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and this week was no exception. At Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., home of the F-35 training center, the integrated joint strike fighter training team has opened the doors for the first Air Force certification courses.

The 33rd Fighter Wing has eight basic familiarization courses now in session at the academic training center with courses scheduled through early next year. About 100 maintenance students from three branches of service began the inaugural classes March 19. (Post)

One plane that will eventually make its way to Eglin is designated BK-1, a short take-off and vertical landing jet built for the United Kingdom. The UK's first production F-35 completed a 45-minute inaugural flight last week. BK-1 will now undergo a series of tests before being handed over to the UK, which will then begin training and further testing at Eglin later this year. (Post)

-- The Air Force is moving ahead on where it will base operational F-35 aircraft. The draft environmental impact statement was released during the week, and now hearings will get underway in the communities that will be impacted.

Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is the preferred alternative for the active duty F-35s, and Burlington Air Guard Station, Vt., is the preferred alternative for the Air National Guard. Other active duty and Air National Guard bases under consideration are Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Jacksonville AGS, Fla.; and Shaw AFB/McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C. (Post)

Unmanned systems
If you follow aerospace activities in this region, you know Northrop Grumman builds portions of the Fire Scout and Global Hawk UAVs in Moss Point, Miss., and that military bases in the region are involved in using and training with UAVs. So this following item will be of interest.

With the Federal Aviation Administration now working on allowing unmanned aircraft to operate in the national airspace with piloted aircraft, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University -- which conducts classes in this region -- and other universities have created majors for students interested in flying or building drones, according to Bloomberg.

The classes cater to a new generation of pilots who have no interest in getting airborne themselves. And it makes perfectly good sense to put these programs in universities. The drone industry worldwide is expected to grow to $11.3 billion annually by 2021. (Post)

OK, the following isn't about unmanned aerial systems, but it is about robotics. Two new maritime robots were unveiled over the past few weeks, and both have ties to the Gulf Coast.

A quarter-scale model of General Dynamics' Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Undersea Vehicle, called "Knifefish," was unveiled at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Exposition in National Harbor, Md., during the week. It's a heavyweight-class minehunting, unmanned undersea vehicle designed for the Littoral Combat Ship mine countermeasure mission package. Panama City, Fla., was involved in developing the minehunter.

A couple of weeks ago, another robot marine vehicle, Textron's Common Unmanned Surface Vessel, was showed off in New Orleans. The 39-foot long unmanned system can navigate and patrols the high seas on its own and reach 28 knots. (Post)

History lessons
Some 35 years after the T-34 first arrived at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla., the Turbo Mentor had its last Whiting Field training flight during the week. The student pilot was 1st Lt. Sarah Horn, and her flight instructor Cmdr. John Hensel. Most of the remaining Whiting Field T-34s will be sent to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, where the Navy continues to train with that model. Whiting now uses the T-6B Texan II. (Post)

-- The Doolittle Raiders will hold their 71st reunion in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., next year, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. History buffs know the daring airmen trained at Eglin Field, which is now Eglin Air Force Base.

They launched 16 B-25 medium bombers from the deck of the USS Hornet in April 1942 to attack five cities in Japan. The attack, just four months after Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, boosted American morale and showed the Japanese populace their homeland was not invulnerable.

The 70th reunion was held during the week at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Four of the five surviving members of the bomber crews attended. (Post)

In Florida during the week, an executive with the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council told the Crestview City Council that a trip to the nation's capital last month included more than 50 area leaders from five counties, according to the Crestview News Bulletin.

Kay Rasmussen, vice president of community and economic development, said the annual Northwest Florida Defense Coalition meeting included officials from Okaloosa, Escambia, Santa Rosa, Walton and Bay counties who met with government and military officials.

Topics discussed with the congressional delegation included the possibility of another Base Realignment and Closure round and the Air Force Material Command reorganization affecting the Eglin Air Force Base Air Armament Center. (Post)

Longtime Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport Executive Director Bruce Frallic is retiring in August after 26 years. Frallic brgan his aviation career in 1967 in the Marine Corps. Of his 45 years in the aviation industry, 40 have been in commercial airport management. He also has worked at airports in Pensacola, Fla., and Hattiesburg, Miss. (Post)

-- The prostitution scandal in Colombia is now touching Northwest Florida. There are reports that the U.S. Southern Command is investigating the role of five soldiers from the 7th Special Forces Group, based at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Members of the Secret Service have been linked to the scandal. They are accused of bringing prostitutes to a hotel in Colombia ahead of last week's Summit of the Americas. (Post)

A twin-engine Cessna on a flight between Slidell, La., and Sarasota, Fla., crashed in the Gulf of Mexico during the week. The pilot was unresponsive for several hours and radar tracked the plane flying in loops over the Gulf of Mexico. Officials believe the pilot, the only person in the plane, was incapacitated. (Post)

The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $9.4 million contract to procure focused lethality munitions Small Diameter Bomb I variant. The location of the performance is St. Louis, Mo. AAC/EBMK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Ship name: Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., wrote to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to request a Navy ship be named after Panama City. He points out that Panama City has a long history in mine warfare beginning in 1945, according to the Panama City News Herald. (Post)

DDG 1002: The next Zumwalt-class destroyer, DDG-1002, will be named the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, after the nation's 36th president. DDG-1002 is the third ship of the Zumwalt class being built by General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works in Maine. Ingalls Shipbuilding's Gulfport, Miss., operation supplies the composite deckhouse and other composite sections for the Zumwalt class. (Post)

Ship parts: Alcoa said it's delivered a set of two aluminum Amah tips to Austal USA for use on the future Littoral Combat Ship USS Jackson. The tip is the leading edge of the all-aluminum, trimaran-type vessel's outrigger, or amah. The LCS 6 is being built in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Week in review (4/8 to 4/14)

Word that the Pentagon will increase the use of drones over the next decade; the suspension of Fire Scout flights; the first formation sortie for Eglin F-35s; the search for a new engine for upper stage of the Space Launch System; a new research center announcement at Stennis Space Center; a defense company's layoffs; a change of command; and an airport's search for a new airline highlighted aerospace activities of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Unmanned systems
The military will increase its fleet of unmanned aerial aircraft at least 45 percent over the next 10 years. That's according to the Pentagon's 30-year aviation report as reported by Bloomberg.

The inventory of pilotless aircraft will grow from 445 in fiscal year 2013 to 645 in fiscal year 2022, and the new drones will include Northrop Grumman Global Hawks, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., as well as General Atomics' Reapers and Predators.

The Defense Department plans to spend $770 billion on aviation assets from 2013 to 2022, a figure that includes fighters, helicopters, tankers and more. (Post)

Permit me an aside here since I just mentioned tankers. Aviation Week reported that Boeing's decision to close its Wichita plant by the end of next year is causing some concern in the military. The Air Force's KC-46A program executive officer said the Wichita plant was well-suited to militarize the 767, because of decades of experience. Now that work will be done at Boeing's facilities in Puget Sound and Everett, Wash., and the government wants more details about the shift. (Story) As you know, Boeing won the tanker contract over EADS, which planned to assemble and militarize the tankers in Mobile, Ala.

OK, back to unmanned systems.

-- The Navy suspended Fire Scout flight operations while it investigates two unrelated operational accidents with the MQ-8B unmanned helicopter, which are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., by Northrop Grumman.

A Fire Scout operating off the USS Simpson late last month was ditched at sea after a mission when it was unable to lock on to the landing system. The crew later recovered the drone. Two Fire Scouts are deployed on the Simpson and provide the ship's sole aviation capability. (Previous)

Then earlier this month, a Fire Scout crashed in northern Afghanistan while on a surveillance mission.

The Navy has 14 Fire Scouts in inventory. Since 2006 Fire Scouts have accumulated more than 5,000 flight hours with more than 3,000 in operational deployments, according to the military. (Post) A Fire Scout also was also lost during fighting in Libya last summer. (Previous)

Two F-35As from the 33rd Fighter Wing had their first formation flight over Eglin Air Force Base's range April 10. The pilots, both first in their service qualified to fly the F-35, were validating pilot syllabus objectives in preparation for future training. The 33rd FW is responsible for F-35 A/B/C pilot and maintainer training for the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and in the future, at least eight coalition partners. (Post)

Also during the week, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $258.8 million modification to the previously awarded F-35 low rate initial production Lot 5 contract, including one additional conventional take-off and landing aircraft for the Air Force and one more carrier variant aircraft for the Navy. (Post)

NASA and the Air Force will study next-generation upper stage propulsion, formalizing their interest in a new upper stage engine to replace the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL-10.

Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., hopes to find a less expensive RL-10-class engine for a third stage of the Space Launch System, and the Air Force Space and Missile System Center's Launch Systems Directorate in Los Angeles hopes to replace the RL-10 engines used on the upper stage of the Atlas V and Delta IV.

Dale Thomas, Associated Director for Technical Issues at Marshall, said collaboration in a time of declining budgets helps strengthen the knowledge base and is important to keep the United States pre-eminent in space. (Post)

Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, is building portions of the Space Launch System, including the Orion crew vehicle, and Stennis Space Center, Miss., tests NASA and commercial rocket engine systems, including the J-2X and Space Shuttle Main Engine that will be used in the first two stages of the SLS.

-- Speaking of Stennis Space Center, it will be the home of the National Oceans and Applications Research Center, according to Gov. Phil Bryant. He said so during the ribbon-cutting for the Infinity Science Center.

NOARC will combine the capabilities of NASA, NOAA and the Navy to analyze and understand the Gulf of Mexico watershed and other oceans NOAA monitors. Bryant said the center will be the "Woods Hole of the South," a reference to the world-renown center in Massachusetts. (Post)

The $30 million, 72,000-square-foot Infinity Science Center, by the way, is just west of the Mississippi Welcome Center, off Interstate 10 at Exit 2, and officials expect it to be a major tourist attraction.

The center showcases the activities of NASA and the 30 agencies at NASA's nearby Stennis Space Center. Exhibits include the Science Express, Science on a Sphere and the Space Gallery. The outdoor exhibits include an F-1 rocket engine, like the ones that powered Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo program.

The heavy emphasis on cyberwarfare and other high-tech subjects taught at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., should ensure the installation plays a key role for the U.S. military into the future, a top Air Force intelligence official said in an interview with the Sun Herald.

The Air Force established undergraduate cyberspace training at Keesler in 2010. Maj. Gen. James Poss, assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said the Gulf Coast is turning into the "Cyber Coast." He pointed out that the Navy is involved in cyberwarefare training in Pensacola, Fla., two hours away. There's also cyber training at Hurlburt Field, Fla. (Post)

-- Four members of the 96th Explosive Ordnance will get five medals in a ceremony next week at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Tech Sgt. James Fitzgerald and Staff Sgt. Kelly Badger will be awarded Bronze Stars. Staff Sgts. Kevin Parke and Christopher Lacy will be awarded the Purple Heart. Parke was injured in two separate incidents in Afghanistan and will receive two Purple Hearts.

-- At Mississippi’s Camp Shelby, Col. William B. Smith Jr., has taken over as commander of the Joint Forces Training Center from Col. Robert S. Parham, who is retiring after 26 years of service. Parham had been commander nearly three years. Smith is a native of Greenville, Miss. Camp Shelby is a huge training center and has deployed thousands of troops. (Story, Hattiesburg American, WDAM)

Defense contractor DRS Technologies laid 150 workers during the week as a result of the defense spending downturn, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. The senior vice president of public affairs said the cut was across the board in every department, including hourly employees and managers.

The company still employs about 450 people in its operation at the Fort Walton Beach Commerce and Technology Park. DRS, headquartered in Parsippany, N.J., is a supplier of integrated products, services and support to military forces. (Post)

Mississippi's Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport is expected to make a decision within a month on a replacement carrier to take over for Delta Air Lines, according to the Hattiesburg American. Bids were submitted by Silver Airways and Air Choice One Airlines. Delta notified the Department of Transportation in July that it intended to drop 24 routes in smaller markets across the nation, including Hattiesburg. (Post)

-- Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is closer to standing up the new in-house police force. Interviews were recently completed with 12 candidates. Eight will be hired, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. Airport and county officials hope to make offers in the next two to three weeks. (Post)

The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $98.8 million contract to procure enhanced threat response redesign for the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. The work will be done in St. Louis, Mo., and to be completed by March 30, 2014. AAC/EBDK/EDBJ, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … EADS North America, Herndon, Va., was awarded a $12.8 million contract to provide contractor logistic support services. Work will be done in Columbus, Miss., with an estimated completion date of Dec. 31, 2012. … Roy Anderson Group, Gulfport, Miss., was awarded a $25.9 million contract for construction of a terminal high altitude area defense instructional facility at Fort Sill, Okla. Work will be done in Lawton, Okla., with an estimated completion date of Sept. 1, 2014. … L&M Welding, Mobile, Ala., was issued a fixed-price with economic price adjustment contract with a maximum $8.5 million for torch repair kits. Using services are Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The date of performance completion is April 8, 2014.

Avondale: Huntington Ingalls Industries is sticking to plans to close its Avondale shipyard near New Orleans, the company's chief executive officer said in an interview in Bloomberg. Shipbuilding will end at Avondale by mid- to late-2013, after it delivers its last amphibious ship. The company is consolidating its Gulf Coast work at the company's shipyards in Pascagoula and Gulfport, Miss. (Post)

Sub: The nuclear-powered attack submarine, Mississippi (SSN-782), returned to the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Conn., after its first voyage in open seas. Mississippi conducted high-speed runs on and under the surface. Mississippi, ninth ship of the Virginia Class, will be commissioned June 2 in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

Tug: Horizon Shipbuilding of Bayou La Batre, Ala., has delivered an inland river tugboat to the Army Corps of Engineers. The 58-foot M/V General Irwin will be used in operations and maintenance work. (Post)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Week in review (4/1 to 4/7)

A commercial spaceport somewhere in the state of Alabama? That state is a big player in the space industry, thanks to Huntsville, home of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the Army's missile activities.

According to reports during the week, Alabama lawmakers are looking at creating a spaceport authority to look at the possibility of seeking FAA approval to set up a spaceport. Nobody has said where it might go, but there are some strict requirements.

The launch site has to have access to useful orbits, and public safety is a big consideration. That means the spaceport would have to be far from major cities in case of a catastrophic failure. Most launch sites are built close to bodies of water to ensure that should a failure occur, no components fall over populated areas.

The Federal Aviation Administration so far has licensed eight non-federal launch sites in California, Florida, Virginia, Alaska, New Mexico and Oklahoma. California Spaceport received the first FAA approval in 1996, and the first one licensed that's not co-located with a government launch site is the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska.

This isn't the first time Alabama has thought about this. There was "Spaceport Alabama" with a program office at Jacksonville State University. But according to the FAA, no legislative activity took place and the Alabama Commission on Aerospace appears inactive. In fact, the FAA lists eight proposed spaceports that have made little or no progress.

Spaceports are designed to launch orbital or suborbital vehicles into space, and often provide the ability to integrate launch vehicle components and payloads, according to the FAA. Launches are vertical, but Cecil Field Spaceport near Jacksonville, Fla.,, Mojave Air and Space Port in California and Oklahoma Spaceport and Spaceport America also have runways.

It makes sense for Alabama to pursue this, even thought it could be years away. Commercial space flights are a reality, and the field will grow. For Alabama, the coast certainly represents one option. There have been rocket launches from Eglin Air Force Base. Cape San Blas in Northwest Florida's Gulf County was mentioned back in the late '80s as a possible site for a Florida spaceport. According to the fiscal year 2011 base structure report, the Air Force’s Cape San Blas Missile Tracking Annex D-3 is some 679 acres.

This may be an opportunity for the states with a piece of the Gulf Coast Interstate 10 region to look at working together to see if they can come up with a site that they could all back. We have portions of the new Space Launch System being built at Michoud Assembly in New Orleans, rocket engine testing at Stennis Space Center, Miss., the tracking of space objects at Eglin Air Force Base. Maybe it's time for a launch pad.

-- While on the subject of space, there were some important NASA appointments formally announced during the past week. Arthur E. "Gene" Goldman is now the acting director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. He had been serving as deputy director, and before that he was director of Stennis Space Center, Miss.

In addition, Robert Champion was appointed deputy director of Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where he was acting deputy director and chief operations officer from 2010 until this latest appointment. Prior to that announcement, NASA said that Chris M. Crumbly was appointed director of Michoud, where he had been deputy director from March 2011. (Post)

Unmanned systems
Navy Fire Scout unmanned helicopters will be getting smarter when it comes to tracking down modern-day pirates. That's because of an Office of Naval Research-funded project that will help the robots helicopters autonomously distinguish pirate boats from other vessels.

The Navy plans to upgrade Fire Scouts with the Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker, a mix of cameras, infrared sensors and LIDAR that will provide 3-D laser images. The MMSS is designed to reduce the workload of sailors operating Fire Scouts from control stations aboard Navy ships. Testing begins this summer off the coast of California.

Fire Scouts are built in Moss Point, Miss., by Northrop Grumman, and they'll eventually be used on board the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships, a version of which is being built in Mobile, Ala., by Austal USA. (Post)

-- Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., is among eight sites in the company’s Aerospace Systems sector to earn International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 registration. It also received the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001 certification for managing employees' health and safety in the workplace. (Post)

A Navy squadron disestablished in 2005 is being re-established. Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA-101) will have a stand-up ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., next month. The original Fighter Squadron 101 was established in 1952 and flew various aircraft, including the F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat.

VFA-101, which will serve as the Fleet Replacement Squadron, will training pilots and maintainers for the fleet. It's part of the 33rd Fighter Wing, a joint-service wing responsible for F-35 A/B/C pilot and maintenance training. Eglin will eventually have 59 of the F-35s and three flying squadrons, one for each service's aircraft variant. The F-35 Academic Training Center serves as the schoolhouse, where the wing will train more than 2,000 maintenance students and 100 pilots each year. (Post)

-- The first F-35 for The Netherlands rolled out of the F-35 production facility earlier this month in Fort Worth, Texas. It will eventual be assignment to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., home of the F-35 training center. The Netherlands will use the conventional takeoff and landing jet, known as AN-1, for training and operational tests for pilots and maintainers. AN-1 will undergo functional fuel system checks before being transported to the flight line for ground and flight tests in the coming weeks. (Post)

-- Northrop Grumman's first F-35 center fuselage produced by its auto-industry inspired Integrated Assembly Line in Palmdale, Calif., was delivered to Lockheed Martin last month. The company has delivered 69 center fuselages since 2005, but this is the first from the IAL.

The IAL was developed and designed with the help of the Detroit-based KUKA Robotics Aerospace Division, a commercial automation integrator. Northrop Grumman is a member of the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 industry team. (Post)

EADS North America unveiled its Armed Aerial Scout 72X+ (AAS-72X+) at the annual Army Aviation Association of America convention in Nashville, Tenn. The armed derivative of the Army’s UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter will be built by the company's American Eurocopter business unit in Columbus, Miss. EADS is one of several competitors for the program to replace the OH-58 Kiowa Warriors. (Post)

Continental Motors has been accused of making a defective engine that caused a 2010 plane crash that killed a jogger on the beach in Hilton Head, S.C. Attorneys for the Mobile, Ala.-based manufacturer, know as Teledyne Continental Motors before its sale to China’s AVIC last year, say the engine had nothing to do with the accident, according to the Mobile Press-Register. (Post)

The BRAC process would look like the 2005 round under the legislative proposal the Defense Department sent to Congress for base closure rounds in 2013 and 2015. The process for appointing commissioners, milestones and reports DOD must meet and more are essentially unchanged from the last round, based on a preliminary analysis of DoD’s 36-page proposal. Lawmakers have made it clear that they have no appetite to authorize a BRAC round in 2013, according to Defense Communities 360. (Post)

Okaloosa County airport officials hope to secure $12 million in federal stimulus money to build a road that would connect Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Fla., to U.S. Highway 90. The money is part of $500 million that will be made available through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery program, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. (Post)

ALFAB Inc., Enterprise, Ala., was awarded a not-to-exceed $150 million contract for the procurement of AM-2 matting packages: F-71, F-72, F-73, and F-78 for the expeditionary airfield. AM-2 matting is designed to interlock in a brickwork type pattern and provides for the construction of portable runways and taxiways for aircraft launch and recovery. Work will be performed in Enterprise, Ala., and is expected to be completed in April 2017. … Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Aerospace Systems, Melbourne, Fla., was awarded a $27 million modification to previously awarded contract for the procurement of the AN/AES-1 Airborne Laser Mine Detection System low rate initial production. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Materials: An Office of Naval Research-funded project is producing a full-size ship hull section made with marine grade titanium using a welding innovation that could help bring titanium into future ship construction. Researchers at the University of New Orleans School of Naval Architecture and Textron Marine and Land Systems are demonstrating the project, and expect to have a complete hull this summer. The work is being done at the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing in New Orleans, which is a partnership between UNO, NASA and Louisiana. (Post)

Contract: Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $50 million modification to previously awarded contract for procurement of additional long lead time material in support of the LHA replacement, Flight 0, amphibious assault ship, LHA 7. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Miss., and is expected to complete by May 2013.