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)