Saturday, May 12, 2012

Week in review (5/6 to 5/12)

We had our usual mix of aerospace stories of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week, like more F-35s at Eglin, rocket engine and component tests at Stennis Space Center, a contract to buy three more Fire Scouts and an upcoming symposium on unmanned aerial systems.

But there were a handful of news items that are intriguing because of the impact they'll have on this region in the future. One happened in Florida, one in Alabama and the other in Mississippi. And they all could make a difference in perceptions of this region, as well as provide us with a new generation of residents who understand the significance of science, technology, engineering and math.

In Florida, the National Flight Academy at Naval Air Station Pensacola welcomed its first class to the multimillion-dollar center adjacent to the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

The opening was covered by the local media, of course, and the Associated Press did a story as well about the high-tech center that provides students with the look and feel of the inside of an aircraft carrier, complete with jet noise and more. The center links 30 simulators, and the idea is to give the students hands-on experience using the science and math skills that they learn in school.

Importantly, they don't run combat missions where the idea is to knock out the enemy, but missions that include humanitarian operations. They were welcomed to the inaugural class by astronaut Mark Kelly, who was joined by Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, and Gene Cernan, the last one to do so.

The ersatz carrier, dubbed Ambition, is operated by a nonprofit with funding from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and other aviation and defense industry leaders. It was created with help from designers who have worked for Disney and Universal Studios theme parks.

The National Flight Center is significant in itself, but what's intriguing is it's not the only push in this region to interest students in STEM activities. Across the state line in Mobile, Ala., the Airbus Corporate Foundation during the week awarded a second $50,000 grant to the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center. The money will be used to expand its first year pilot youth mentoring and aeronautics program.

That's in keeping with Airbus' goal to "inspire disadvantaged children and young adults through aviation." Dubbed ExploreAIR, the Exploreum's expanded program will focus on students, grade 6-12, and support the science center's ongoing Workforce Development initiatives.

Further to the west in Mississippi, fourth and fifth-graders helped harvest aeroponically grown lettuce on Monday at the new NASA Infinity Science Center, an impressive facility south of Interstate 10 about two miles from the Louisiana-Mississippi state line.

Students from Louisiana helped in the first harvest from the Controlled Environment Agriculture exhibit, which grows lettuce in about 35 days without the use of soil. The CEA is a prototype developed and built by Innovative Imaging & Research with funding from Stennis Space Center's Chief Technologist’s Office and the University of Southern Mississippi's Business and Innovation Assistance Center in partnership with the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology.

Infinity is still raising funding for all its exhibits, but when it reaches full bloom it will have activities that will involve visitors in activities ranging from deep sea exploration to deep space. What's particularly interesting about Infinity is its prime location along a well-traveled interstate, where it should lure a lot of folks traveling along the interstate.

What strikes me is that we are developing in this region some really fascinating islands of learning that targets young people and could lead them to STEM careers. My fear is that leaders in this region will continue to look just in their own back yard and will fail to see the bigger picture -- how all these centers can fit together as a super science tour package.

Since organizations in this region have received a lot of money from BP for tourism development, they should get together to consider promoting these science centers for family-oriented multi-day or multi-week tours. Food and beaches and all the typical tourist lures are great, but can you imagine the impact of promoting this region as a place where students could get inundated in STEM activities? Give 'em a package that would include time at all these places, and years from now when those students are in decision-making positions, they'll remember that experience and this region.

A detailed look at some of these facilities can be found on pages 85-86 of Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor 2011-2012, a book about aerospace activities in this region. You can download the chapter PDF with pages 85-86 right here. If you're an economic development or tourism official and this intrigues you, feel free to give me a call at 850-261-6777.

OK, here's a look at some of the other aerospace-related news items of interest to the Gulf Coast region that moved during the week:

NASA conducted a 340-second test of the J-2X powerpack as part of the development of the next-generation rocket engine for the Space Launch System. The powerpack sits atop the J-2X engine and feeds the thrust chamber system, which produces engine thrust. The test was to operate the turbopumps over a range of speeds by varying the gas generator valve positions. (Post)

-- At Cape Canaveral, Fla., the second Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite was launched by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V vehicle. AEHF is a joint service, highly secure satellite communications system for ground, sea and air assets. The core propulsion work for the AEHF is done at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Two F-35B aircraft arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., during the week after a 90-minute flight from Fort Worth, Texas. The Marine Corps F-35s, designated BF-9 and BF-10, are assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing's Marine Fighter/Attack Squadron 501. Eglin now has 11 F-35s, and another F-35B, BF-11, is also slated to arrive this week at Eglin. (Post)

-- Navy Vice Adm. David J. Venlet, F-35 program executive officer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s airpower panel that technical and cost issues remain, but the F-35 is an impressive marriage of engine and airframe. Venlet also touted a fix for the jet's troubled, high-tech helmet, which officials hope will solve jitter picture and lag time issues. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin issued a press release about the milestones in the F-35 flight test program. (Post)

-- F-35 builder Lockheed Martin was awarded a $237.7 million modification to the previously awarded Low Rate Initial Production IV contract for changes to the configuration baseline hardware or software resulting from the JSF development effort. It was for Marine Corps and UK short take-off vertical landing aircraft, Air Force and Netherlands conventional take-off and landing aircraft and Navy carrier variant aircraft. (Post) Lockheed Martin also was awarded a $14 million contract modification to implement required design changes that allow coalition training operations for the F-35. (Post)

A report on television’s 60 Minutes about pilots who refuse to fly the F-22 because of
hypoxia-related safety issues has pulled attention back to the advanced aircraft. Investigators have yet to pin down what's wrong with the planes oxygen system. The Panama City News Herald reported that Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., issued a statement vowing to work to help to solve the problems. He also wants the entire F-22 training mission at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

Unmanned systems
Some of the nation's leading experts in unmanned aerial systems will be at Mississippi State University beginning Monday for the 2012 UAS Symposium that will focus on the impact of unmanned aircraft technology on research, defense, homeland security, law, and public policy.

The university and the Association of Unmanned Aerial Systems International-Mississippi are co-hosts. The program features a lineup of speakers, panel discussions, flight demonstrations, and tours.

Mississippi is a player in the UAV field, with activities in the Golden Triangle area and South Mississippi. Fire Scout and Global Hawk UAVs are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., by Northrop Grumman. In the Gulf Coast region, multiple bases in the region are involved in UAV activities. (Post)

-- Here's one of interest to Moss Point, Miss. Northrop Grumman was awarded a $25.7 million modification to a previously awarded contract to purchase three Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing tactical unmanned aerial vehicles Lot 5 low rate initial production and one ground control station. Fifty-five percent of the work will be done in Moss Point. (Post)

Economic development
The political columnist of the Mobile Press-Register during the week took on the question of whether the election of Francois Hollande as president of France might have an impact on "The Project," shorthand for the effort to get an aircraft assembly plant in Mobile. (Post)

-- The Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce has unveiled its new Blueprint for a Better Tomorrow economic development strategy. Bradley Byrne, the chamber board's vice chairman for economic development, outlined four areas of concentration, including aerospace. (Post)

The Navy awarded contracts during the week to support the Naval Education Training Command and Naval Education and Training Professional Development and Technology Center in Pensacola, Fla. Northrop Grumman got a three-year, $84 million contract to provide planning and assessment, curriculum development, and computer-based modeling and simulation training solutions for NETC. General Dynamics Information Technology was among awardees of a contract to deliver education and training support services to NETC and NETPDTC. The three-year, contract has a potential value of $97.4 million to all nine awardees, if all options are exercised. Work will primarily be performed in Pensacola, Fla., Gulfport, Miss., Hampton Roads, Va., and Port Hueneme, Calif. … Enterprise Ventures Corp., Johnstown, Pa., was awarded a $12.5 million contract for the production of 12 carriage, stream, tow, and recovery system kits in support of the Naval Air Systems Command, MH-60S Airborne Mine Countermeasures Program. Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded an $11.4 million contract for central processing unit, circuit card assembly spike extension on the Lot 24 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile production lot. AAC/EBAC, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … McDonnell Douglas Corp., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $24 million contract for technical support for the Joint Direct Attack Munition weapon system to include non-warranty induction and repair, annual software updates, mission planning support and studies/analysis. AAC/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

The Times-Picayune reported during the week that state economic officials are involved in talks that would transfer ownership of the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility from the University of New Orleans to Louisiana State University. (Story)

LCS: Austal is confident its contract with the U.S. Navy will not be affected by a move to investigate purchase of the ships. A committee wants the Government Accountability Office to look into how the U.S. Navy has dealt with problems associated with its 55-vessel Littoral Combat Ship program. Austal USA is building the Independence class version of the LCS in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Leaks: The Associated Press reported that a Coast Guard cutter built by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., will have to be put in dry dock for repairs. Temporary repairs were made to the four leaks found in April on the USCG Stratton. (Post)

Hangar: A composite helicopter hangar built by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Gulfport, Miss., is heading for Bath Iron Works in Maine. The 60 foot wide structure took nearly two years to construct. Another, even larger composite structure, the deckhouse is still being built and is expected to be shipped to Maine this summer. (Post)

Contract: Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors, Moorestown, N.J., was awarded a $7.7 million modification to previously awarded contract for DDG 51-class and CG 47-class Aegis combat system installation, integration, testing, and fleet life-cycle engineering support of the Program Executive Officer for Integrated Warfare Systems. Pascagoula, Miss., will do 1 percent of the work. (Post)