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)