Saturday, September 29, 2012

Week in review (9/23 to 9/29)

A change in leadership at Stennis Space Center, Miss., a suggestion that Northwest Florida step up its game to attract the aerospace industry, more news on the EADS-BAE Systems proposed merger, the standup of a special forces battalion at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and millions in contracts were among the news items of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor during the week.

Patrick Scheuermann, director of NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., since 2010, is moving to Huntsville, Ala., to become director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. He'll be replaced at SSC by Richard J. Gilbrech, who is currently deputy director and a former director of SSC.

At Marshall, Scheuermann will replace Robin Henderson, who filled the position in Huntsville temporarily when Gene Goldman retired Aug. 3. The changes were announced Tuesday by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. (Post)

Huntsville is getting a good one. I've spoken to Scheuermann many times because of stories I've done about Stennis Space Center. He's always been helpful, and he knows his stuff. He's a man of vision who could see great things for SSC.

I'm a bit less familiar with Gilbrech, but I can tell you I had a sitdown with him once during his first tenure as director of SSC. I was impressed, but didn't get to talk to him much over the years. I'm looking forward to any opportunity for another talk.

That's the one thing about NASA and the military that takes some getting used to. The head honcho changes every now and then, but with NASA, it's possible someone who was there in the past will take over again.

The industry
Northwest Florida has to step up its game if it wants to join the global race for billions of dollars headed for civilian and military aerospace projects over the next two decades. That's what an aviation expert told more than 400 area business and political leaders at Gulf Power's 16th annual Economic Summit in Sandestin, Fla., during the week.

Aerospace industries the Panhandle should pursue include aircraft manufacturing, rockets and missiles, search and navigation, Tier 1 and 2 parts and service suppliers and unmanned aerial systems. Over the next 20 years more than 5,000 civilian aircraft will be built worldwide, and with a lot of aerospace workers reaching retirement, there will be a demand for new workers. Among the positive things Northwest Florida has is a lot of former military. (Post)

This isn't the first time experts have discussed the growth of the industry, and suggested the region prepare. During last year's Aerospace Alliance Summit in Sandestin, the same theme came across loud and clear. During that summit, speakers from Airbus and Lockheed Martin said growth is coming and the region needs to prepare. (Previous) Since that summit, projections have gone upward.

BAE Systems doesn't want to jeopardize its special relationship with the Pentagon and will walk away from the proposed merger with EADS to protect it. That's according to a report in Financial Times of London, quoting an unnamed source.

The relationship is a Special Security Arrangement and that has allowed UK's BAE to work on many U.S. projects, including the F-35. It's allowed BAE to build a 40,000-employee network in 40 states and make $14 billion a year in the U.S.

France and Germany's EADS has a more strict special security arrangement. It has 3,000 employees and makes $1.4 billion a year in the U.S. Both companies have operations in the Gulf Coast I-10 region. EADS also plans to build an A320 assembly line in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

While on the subject of EADS NA, the company was awarded a $10.9 million contract to provide for the modification of an existing contract for services in support of the UH-72A Lakota. Work will be done in Columbus, Miss. (Post)

Lockheed Martin recently conducted two separate DAGR missile flight tests, successfully firing the missiles from a prototype pedestal launcher and hitting a stationary target. The tests at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., demonstrated DAGR’s capability as a ground-based weapon.

In each test an inert DAGR missile locked onto the laser spot illuminating the target before launch. Each missile flew 3.5 kilometers and hit the target within one foot of the laser spot. Lockheed Martin has conducted more than 30 DAGR flight tests from ranges of 1 to 5.1 kilometers. DAGR has been launched from multiple HELLFIRE-equipped rotary-wing platforms, including the AH-64D Apache, AH-6 Little Bird and OH-58 Kiowa Warrior. (Post)

Special forces
The fourth and final battalion of the Army 7th Special Forces Group has been activated at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. More than 100 people attended a ceremony at Friday morning. The activation of the 4th Battalion will enable the 7th Special Forces Group to sustain repeated deployments around the world. (Post)

L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC of Madison, Miss., won three contracts totaling $165.2 million during the week. The largest award, $126.5 million, is a modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot level maintenance required to support 28 T-45A and 171 T-45C aircraft at the Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas; NAS Meridian, Miss.; and NAS Pensacola, Fla. (Post)

Another contract of $27.3 million was awarded for logistics services support of the TH-57 aircraft fleet. Services to be provided include repair and/or overhaul of aircraft, engines, avionics and related components. Work will be performed at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Fla., and is expected to be completed in March 2013. (Post)

The company was also awarded an $11.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for maintenance and logistics services, including labor, services, facilities, equipment, tools, direct and indirect material required to support and maintain the T-39N and T-39G aircraft and related support equipment. Work will be done in Pensacola, Fla. (Post)

In other contracts awarded during the week, Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded an $89.2 million contract for long lead components, parts and materials associated with the Lot VII Low Rate Initial Production of F135 propulsion systems for F-35s for the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, Turkey, Italy, United Kingdom and Norway. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post) … Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Cambridge, Mass., was awarded a $13 million contract for research and development of an advanced secure micro digital data link unit. The contracting activity is AFRL/RWK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post) … PRI-DJI, Las Vegas, Nev., was awarded a $12.5 million modification under a previously awarded contract to exercise option two for Base Operations Support services at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., and sub communities. The total contract amount after exercise of this option will be $84,637,994. Work will be performed in Milton, Fla., work for is expected to be completed September 2013. (Post)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Week in review (9/16 to 9/22)

A Boeing executive questions the proposed EADS-BAE merger; a first for the F-35 and F-22; a state grant for military communities in Florida; foreign attaches touring NAS Pensacola; and NASA selecting 26 proposals for the SLS program were among the news items during the week of interest to the Gulf Coast.

Here’s your week in review:

Shortly after it was reported that EADS and BAE Systems were in talks about a merger, Boeing's chief executive said his company doesn't feel threatened. Now another Boeing executive is sounding just a bit different about the $48 billion merger.

Dennis Muilenburg, head of Boeing's defense operations, told Reuters there are national security and industrial questions that would be raised by a merger of EADS and BAE Systems. He said it must be reviewed carefully by regulators.

A merger of Europe's EADS and the UK's BAE Systems would be of high interest to the Gulf Coast. BAE Systems' North American operation is a major defense contractor with operations along the Gulf Coast, and EADS has operations in the region as well, including Mobile, Ala., and an American Eurocopter plant in Columbus, Miss. (Post)

Two top-of-the-line combat aircraft, the F-35 Lightning and F-22 Raptor, flew together for the first time during the week in a 90-minute sortie over Northwest Florida. One took off from Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, the other from Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City. The two planes, tailed by an F-16, flew within 35 feet of one another. Eglin has 19 F-35s of 59 it will eventually get.

It certainly made sense to see the two fly together. Eglin and Tyndall have close ties. A test unit at Tyndall is part of a larger group at Eglin, and both bases train pilots to fly the two fifth-generation jets train. Eglin is setting up shop to train aviators handle the F-35, and Tyndall is where pilots learn to fly the F-22. (Post)

-- While on the topic of firsts, for the first time the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System will be integrated onto an unmanned aerial vehicle. BAE Systems, which designed and manufactures the guidance section of the laser-guided rocket, was recently awarded a Navy contract to add the APKWS onto the MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV.

The system is being integrated onto the Fire Scout in response to an urgent operational need and is being prepared for rapid deployment. You’ll likely recall that a Fire Scout was shot down over Libya. That made it clear the system needs to defend itself.

Northrop Grumman Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

-- Technicians are working on a fix for a key air-to-air weapon. Raytheon's Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) is used by the U.S. and allies, but some of the solid-fuel rocket motors, built by ATK, have failed tests at high altitudes.

ATK is working the problem, and a supplier from Norway, NAMMO, is providing an alternate motor. The manager of the AMRAAM program at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., said that with the AMRAAM’s fire-and-forget capability, it’s the main air-superiority weapon for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and 35 allied nations. (Post)

-- Phase III assessment testing of the AT-6 light attack aircraft's weapons systems was
successfully completed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., according to Hawker Beechcraft Defense. Phases I and II assessments included computer-aided deliveries of general purpose and laser-guided bombs. All weapons testing was accomplished with oversight from the Air Force Air Armament Center and the Air National Guard and Air Reserve Command Test Center. (Post)

NASA selected 26 proposals from academia and industry for advanced development activities for the nation's next heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System. Proposals from universities in the four-state Aerospace Alliance region were among the programs selected: Auburn University, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University and the University of Florida.

Proposals selected under this NASA Research Announcement seek innovative and affordable solutions to evolve the launch vehicle from its initial configuration to its full lift capacity capable of sending humans farther into deep space than ever before.

NASA sought proposals in a variety of areas, including concept development, trades and analyses, propulsion, structures, materials, manufacturing, avionics and software.

SLS is a key program for this region. Stennis Space Center, Miss., will be testing the engines and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, is fabricating Orion crew capsules and will be building the core stage for the SLS. (Post)

-- The Space Shuttle Endeavour, riding piggyback on a 747, flew low over Stennis Space
Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans Wednesday during its ferry trip to Los Angeles. Endeavour, the youngest aircraft in the space shuttle fleet, completed 25 missions, spent 299 days in orbit, and orbited Earth 4,671 times while traveling 122,883,151 miles. (Post)

Eleven Florida communities with military bases are getting $850,000 in grants from the state. The grants are designed to protect the bases and diversity economies.

In Northwest Florida, Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties will get a combined $335,000. The Bay Defense Alliance will get $100,000, the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce will receive $70,000, the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County will get $125,000 and Santa Rosa County will receive $40,000.

The Northwest Florida counties are home to Eglin and Tyndall Air Force bases, Hurlburt and Duke fields, Naval Air Station Pensacola and Whiting Field, the Naval Surface Warfare Center and Corry Station. (Post)

-- A surrogate semi-submersible engineered to mimic the design of drug-running vessels is
helping the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate
develop better devices to detect them.

Called "Pluto," it's homeported at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and being kept operational by the 46th Test Squadron. The vessels are popularly called "narco subs," build by South American drug cartels.

They are actually low-riders, barely visible on the surface of the ocean. The Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force and other federal agencies are using Pluto to test remote sensing capabilities on the 45-foot long vessel in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific. (Post)

-- The 345th Airlift Squadron returned home to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., last weekend after a four-month deployment in Afghanistan. The 30-member squadron, an active duty member Keesler's 815th Airlift Squadron, deployed May 9 and performed 261 airdrops in the battle zone. The 815th is part of the 403rd Reserve Wing at Keesler. (Post)

-- Twenty foreign naval attaches visited Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., last week as part of the group's tour of U.S. Navy installations. The got an overview of Navy training, including aviation, flight physiology, enlisted aviation technical schools, and water survival training.

The attaches were from Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Many of those countries send students to train at NAS Pensacola. (Post)

-- The 325th Maintenance Squadron aerospace ground equipment (AGE) shop is one of nine shops in the squadron making the transition from contracted personnel to active duty. The swap is to accommodate the Oct. 1 mission change from Air Education and Training Command to Air Combat Command. With a combat-coded F-22 Raptor squadron coming, the shop must be ready to deploy.

The shop will also be making the switch to a 24/7 operations. The other eight shops making the transition are Egress, Fuels, Wheel and Tire, Low Observable, Non-Destructive Inspection, Metals Technology, Crash Recovery and Armament. (Post)

Del-Jen Inc., Clarksville, Tenn., was $25.4 million modification to a contract exercising option 1 for base operations support services at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., and surrounding areas including Saufley Field, Corry Station and Bronson Field. Work is expected to be completed by September 2013. … Rolls-Royce Defense Services Inc., Indianapolis, Ind., was awarded a $103.3 million modification to a previously awarded  contract to exercise an option for intermediate and depot level maintenance and related support for in-service T-45 F405-RR-401 Adour engines. Work will be done at the Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas (48 percent); NAS Meridian, Miss. (47 percent); NAS Pensacola, Fla. (4 percent); and NAS Patuxent River, Md. (1 percent), and is expected to be completed in September 2013.

NAVSCIATTS: Unidentified boats that worried some residents along the Santa Rosa Sound on Tuesday evening were part of a training exercise from a Navy team based at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The exercise was part of a training course run by the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School (NAVSCIATTS). (Post)

Cutters: Lockport-based Bollinger Shipyards Inc. will receive $250 million to build six Fast Response Cutters for the Coast Guard. They’ll be homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Post)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Week in review (9/9 to 9/15)

There's a fascinating project underway right now teaming scientists from two extremes: those involved in space and those involved in oceans. It may one day lead to daily, weather-like water reports, via an app. Users will run the gamut, from those interested in beach conditions to commercial fishing ventures.

The Pensacola News Journal’s Kimberly Blair wrote about the Environmental Protection Agency's "Pathfinder" project, involving a team of scientists at the EPA's Gulf Ecology Division at Pensacola Beach, Fla.

They're working one the project with other scientists, including experts from the Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Pathfinder uses remote sensing technology aboard the International Space Station, the Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO), to check water quality data from bays and beaches in Northwest Florida. If all goes well, the sensing technology will make its way to a satellite and an app will eventually be developed.

But the key is determining the accuracy of the data being captured. That's being done through using underwater vehicles operated from Stennis Space Center, as well as data from gadgets moored in local bays and other underwater technologies that sample for water temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, turbidity and water clarity.

EPA research biologist Jim Hagy said people really perk up when he mentions the marine scientists are working with the International Space Station. "It really grabs people's attention – making them realize we are doing some cool science right here in Pensacola," he told Blair.

Indeed, Mr. Hagy. We're doing some cool science all across the region, from Stennis Space Center to Panama City and multiple places in between. It's the best kept secret around.

To read Blair's detailed story, click here.

OK, now for your aerospace week in review:

Anyone who follows the aerospace and defense industry is paying close attention to the possibility of BAE Systems and EADS joining together to form a massive aerospace and defense company. BAE would own 40 percent and EADS the remainder of a company that would have a market value of some $50 billion, according to reports. (Post)

What's causing all this are the ups and downs of the aerospace and defense industries. Right now it's the military side that's taking a pounding, and the civilian side that's on the upswing. Boeing's chief executive said his company doesn't feel threatened. He told Reuters the proposed merger reflected the start of global consolidation in the defense industry and was likely aimed at giving EADS greater access to the U.S. defense market.

His company, if any, would understand the logic behind the move. It was in the 90s that Boeing and McDonnell Douglas got together for similar reasons. At that time, it was the commercial airliner sector that was hurting, and McDonnell's defense activities provided a reliable revenue flow.

Northrop Grumman is also well aware of the value of acquisitions. It went on a buying spree in the 90s and expanded its product line, even getting into shipbuilding. It wasn't until recent years that Northrop Grumman backed off on that sector. As Northrop's action shows, it's ongoing balancing act. There are positives about expanding the product line, but there are also positives with focusing on core businesses. The winners are the ones who strike the right balance.

Other companies right now are changing their portfolio mix, trying to strike that balance. United Technologies opted to dump its rocket-making business in favor of grabbing Goodrich and its aerospace parts business. (Previous) But that was fine for GenCorp., which liked that Rocketdyne will do for its portfolio. (Previous)

All this movement will have an impact on the Gulf Coast because all of these giants are players here. BAE Systems has operations in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Mobile, Ala., and Gautier, Miss. And EADS has operation in Mobile, where it will eventually have even more with the Airbus plant. And while it's a bit outside this region, EADS also has its American Eurocopter plant in Columbus, Miss.

We'll be keeping an eye on all this.

As mentioned above, the airliner sector is in a growth mode. That's good for the industry, but Airbus alone faces a backlog of 4,400 aircraft and may be limited in ramping up production because of the supply chain. That’s according to the company’s chief operating officer. Airbus produces 42 single-aisle planes every month. It would like to push that to 44 a month, but it’s worried about overstretching the supply chain. (Post)

Building an assembly line in Mobile, Ala., will help, but that won't be a factor for several more years. That assembly line will add four more A320s to the mix every month.

-- The international business community is now associating Airbus with Mobile. That's according to Troy Wayman of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, who spoke to the Mobile Press-Register by phone during the week from the ILA Berlin Air Show in Germany.

Wayman was among the Mobile folks who went to Germany to meet with potential Airbus suppliers and other prospects. Officials from Mobile neighbor Pensacola, Fla., were also in Germany trying to drum up business. (Post)

-- More than 300 acres near the planned $600 million Airbus assembly line is being put on the market. Local contractor Jerry Lathan has partnered with the National Auction Group for the sale. Airbus will take up some 116 acres at the Brookley Aeroplex to assemble the A320. (Post)

OK, while on the subject of the A320, low-cost carrier AirAsia of Malaysia will be the first operator of the A320 to use the model with "sharklets" on the wingtips. The announcement was made at the Berlin air show.

AirAsia will take delivery of the first A320 equipped with the fuel-saving wing-tip devices at the end of this year. Sharklets will be fitted on previously ordered, newly-built A320s for AirAsia, scheduled for delivery from the end of 2012. The tips will result in close to 4 percent fuel savings for the most popular Airbus aircraft. (Post)

Depending on where you live, look up Monday and you may see the Boeing 747 with the space shuttle Endeavour riding on the top. During the week aircraft and spacecraft were fitted together in preparation for the trip to Los Angeles.

The pair will be flying low over Stennis Space Center, Miss., Monday morning. SSC is where all the engines were tested. Then it will head to Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, which supplied all the external tanks for the launch vehicle. (Post)

At the same time we're talking about the end of one era, there's been progress on developments in the new era. NASA's Space Launch System, designed to bring astronauts further into space than ever before, has marked its first year of progress.

The heavy-lift program was announced Sept. 14, 2011. It borrowed pieces from the canceled Constellation program and other proven NASA systems. Along the Gulf Coast, both SSC and Michoud are involved.

SSC has run a series of tests on the J-2X that will power the upper stage, and will also test the RS-25s that will power the first stage. Michoud has been building Orion crew vehicles, and will also build the core stage for the SLS. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Mississippi Space and Technology Center during the week marked its 10th anniversary at Stennis Space Center. Site director Dave Hartley said the center has delivered four satellite propulsion systems this year and has six more in production. The propulsion systems are for the A2100 satellites and maneuver the craft in space.

Dennis Little, vice president at Lockheed Martin headquarters in Bethesda, Md., said future projects include propulsion systems for the next generation of GPS and weather satellites and the Orion crew vehicle. (Post)

If you're interested in a more detailed look at the work done at the Mississippi Space and Technology Center, I wrote about it in 2009. It's in the July 2009 issue of Alliance Insight, a science and technology newsletter. Click here and look at pages 4 and 5. You'll be surprised just how many satellites the center is involved in.

There won't be a 104-acre research/business park at Pensacola's Saufley Field, a former air station and the current site of an outlying field and multiple naval education-related operations -- at least not for now in an age where money is a real issue for the military.

The Navy ended talks with DCK Worldwide over the enhanced use lease because it's too expensive to move three commands to Naval Air Station Pensacola, some 10 miles away. It would have required renovations at NAS Pensacola.

Saufley Field opened back in 1940 and during the Vietnam War it was a full-fledged air station. In 1976 it became an outlying landing field for naval aviators operating out of other bases in the region. (Post)

Meanwhile, the number of empty buildings in the Commerce and Technology Park in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., concerns some city officials. Councilman Dennis Reeves said he was driving through the industrial park recently and was surprised.

But Kay Rasmussen of the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council said the EDC is aware and continually marketing the park. One councilman wondered why an indoor unmanned systems test center wasn't being placed in an empty building at the park. But Rasmussen pointed out that none of the buildings meets the needs of the UAV center. (Post)

-- Hundreds of jobs, however, are headed to Washington County north of Mobile, Ala. Huntsman Advanced Materials says it needs to expand in McIntosh, creating 225 jobs on top of the 200 already there. The plant produces resin used in aerospace parts as well as oil and gas exploration. (Post)

Unmanned systems
This item is of interest to the folks in Moss Point, Miss., who build Fire Scout unmanned helicopters. The Navy is launching its first unmanned helicopter squadron next month in Coronado, Calif.

HUQ-1 Hydras will train current pilots and enlisted non-pilots to fly the unmanned helicopters likely to become common on Navy ships. MQ-8C Fire Scouts, built by Northrop Grumman, will arrive at North Island Naval Air Station in 2014.

The larger version of the Fire Scout will be operated off destroyers and frigates. The Navy has tested the MQ-8B version of the Fire Scout on frigates and have deployed them in Afghanistan. (Post)

Northrop Grumman and the Air Force are working on a precision guidance system for a rocket-propelled bomb for the F-35 that attacks deeply buried targets. Northrop Grumman won a $1.8 million contract to gather data to support development of an RF seeker for the future High Velocity Penetrating Weapons. It aims to develop a 2,000-pound bunker-buster with the punch of a 5,000-pound gravity bomb. (Post)

Pensacola, Fla.'s average air fare is 11th highest among the 100 largest airports in the nation, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The Pensacola News Journal reports that the average ticket price out of Pensacola as of April 1 was nearly $447, up 15 percent from a year ago. Driving it are fuel prices and  reduced seating capacity. (Post)

Alutiiq 3SG LLC, Anchorage, Ark., was awarded an $11.6 million contract to procure support for the Acquisition of Civil Engineering Base Operations Support at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The location of the performance is Tyndall. (Post)

Contract: Ingalls of Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a contract for CG 47-class cruisers and DD 963-class destroyers Integrated Planning Yard Services. The base year of the contract has an estimated value of $83.3 million, and if options are exercised, a cumulative value of $468.1 million. Work will be done in Pascagoula, and is expected to be completed by August 2013. (Post)

Contract: Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Bethpage, N.Y., was awarded an $18.8 million modification to previously awarded contract to provide engineering and production planning services for mission packages that will deploy from and integrate with the Littoral Combat Ship. Twenty percent of the work will be done in Panama City, Fla. (Post)

JHSV: The Navy christened the Joint High Speed Vessel Choctaw County Saturday in Mobile, Ala. The 338 foot-long aluminum catamaran was built by Austal USA in Mobile. (Post)

Destroyer: Ingalls in Pascagoula, Miss., has started fabrication on the U.S. Navy's next Aegis guided missile destroyer, John Finn (DDG 113). The ship will be the 29th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer built at Ingalls. (Post)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Week in review (9/2 to 9/8)

A fly-over of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, milestones for the F-35, an encouraging projection by Airbus that's likely to bode well for Mobile, Ala., changes at Tyndall Air Force Base, and an upcoming aerospace summit in New Orleans were among the stories of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region during the week.

Here's your week in review:

The four-state Aerospace Alliance is holding its second annual summit Oct. 25-26 in New Orleans at the Marriott Convention Center, and this one is bound to be of high interest. This year's summit will include sessions on opportunities in unmanned aerial vehicles and commercial space. But no doubt one of the biggest topics will be Airbus' decision to build airliners in Mobile, Ala.

Plans are still being firmed up, but those interested can already register.

The inaugural fall summit last year was held at Sandestin Beach Resort, Fla., and was attended by a variety of aerospace companies, economic development officials and business leaders from the four states. By any measure it was successful.

The Aerospace Alliance was formed more than three years ago by the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida's Great Northwest. The entire state of Florida didn't join until after last year's summit. As a matter of fact, it was formally announced at the event. (Post)

The four states have multiple aerospace clusters. In addition to the Interstate 10 region between New Orleans and Northwest Florida -- the only one involving all four states -- there's also the world-renown Huntsville-Decatur aerospace region in north Alabama, the Golden Triangle in east-central Mississippi, Florida's Space Coast and more.

One of the most high profile aerospace developments in the I-10 region was, of course, the announcement in July that Airbus will build a $600 million A320 assembly complex at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala. The company said it needs the plant to meet global demand.

Almost as if to affirm that, late in the week Reuters reported that AirAsia is close to a deal to buy up to 100 of the popular A320 family of airliners. The demand from Asian low-cost carriers is helping to drive production of both Airbus and Boeing jets. (Post)

Last year during the Sandestin summit, well before the Airbus decision to build a plant in Mobile, aerospace executives were saying demand was going up, and would likely continue. They pointed out that this region needs to get ready by preparing the workforce.

Now Airbus has increased its 20-year production forecast by 5 percent. The company's latest Global Market Forecast cites a need for some 28,200 passenger and freighter aircraft of 100 seats or more between 2012 and 2031. Of those, more than 27,350 will be passenger aircraft.

Passenger traffic will grow at an average annual rate of 4.7 percent in the next 20 years. By 2031 the world's passenger fleet will have expanded by 110 percent to over 32,550, according to the forecast. (Post)

With Airbus revising its forecast upward, the Mobile Press-Register asked local and regional economic development leaders what it might mean for Mobile. Not surprisingly, the consensus was positive, not only for Mobile but the surrounding region. (Post)

-- The Airbus seven-building, 116-acre complex is likely to play a role in how the University of South Alabama Foundation develops its 300 acres at Brookley Aeroplex. Director Maxey Roberts told the Press-Register the foundation wants to talk with stakeholders, the city of Mobile and Mobile Airport Authority for input on how to develop the property. (Post)

If you have the long-term in mind, you'll want to pay attention to activities at Brookley. There's every reason to believe that former Air Force base will develop as a gateway into this region, with Airbus likely to use it as a showcase. A good read that puts that in focus was a column done by a Press-Register reporter after the Farnborough Air Show. (Post)

Talk about showcase, to the east of Mobile at Florida's Eglin Air Force Base, the establishment of a training center for the F-35 will bring international attention on that part of the I-10 aerospace corridor for years to come. Make no mistake; the F-35 training complex is a high-tech campus that will bring in foreign pilots and maintainers for years. They will be able to form bonds with this region. Many of those folks will eventually end up as movers and shakers in the aerospace industry in their country.

Impress them now and additional rewards will come down the road.

The formal training program will move a step closer Monday when Air Force officials begin the F-35A Operational Utility Evaluation. The review is expected to last about 65 days. In the evaluation data will be collected from all facets of F-35 training, including maintenance, classroom, simulator and flights.

That's all a precursor for the Air Force to begin training other services as well as United States allies who have been involved with the multi-national F-35 program from the start. Initially, 59 aircraft and three flying squadrons, one for each service/aircraft variant, will be established at Eglin. (Post)

-- In another F-35 development, the "B" variant, the short take-off and vertical landing version, completed a series of engine air start tests, which involve shutting down and restarting the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan in flight.

Aircraft BF-2 successfully completed a series of 27 air starts at various altitudes and using various methods on Aug. 15 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., according to the Naval Air Systems Command. Air start testing is required for the F-35B to undertake high angle-of-attack trials next year. The Air Force's F-35A variant had earlier completed its air start testing at Edwards AFB. (Post)

Going further to the east along the I-10 corridor, changes are afoot at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The 325th Fighter Wing marks the transition to Air Combat Command from Air Education and Training Command Oct. 1, a move that adds additional personnel and aircraft.

The 44th Fighter Group, Detachment 2 from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., will be added to Team Tyndall. It's a Reserve unit and scheduled to operate as a support function to the new combat-coded F-22 Raptor squadron standing up in early 2013. About 250 members will comprise the 44th FG and reside in and around Tyndall. Reserve personnel assigned to the 44th FG specifically, are nearly 25 percent full-time. (Post)

-- While on the subject of change, the Air Force said Brig. Gen. John K. McMullen will be leaving as commander of Tyndall’s 325th Fighter Wing. McMullen will be reassigned to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as the deputy chief of staff operations for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Headquarters Allied Air Command. The Panama City News Herald reports that no timetable has been set. (Post)

-- A project to build a new addition and repair the F-22 Raptor parts storage facility at Tyndall is scheduled for completion March 2013. GCC Enterprises Inc., of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded the $1 million contract in September 2011 and began work in April 2012.

The 3,000-square-foot vault is designated for securing F-22 parts and 800 square foot weapons vault expansion, said the project manager. The new vault construction has been completed and the expansion on the weapons vault is scheduled to begin within the week. The change from AETC to ACC requires adding additional support facilities, aircraft and personnel to the installation. (Post)

-- The 325th Air Control Squadron is scheduled to be the only squadron within the 325th Fighter Wing to remain under Air Education and Training Command. That's because it’s an initial skills training course. The squadron will become the 337th Air Control Squadron two days after the 325th FW transitions to the ACC. (Post)

Unmanned systems
Radio Australia reported during the week that the country is resurrecting plans to buy seven Northrop Grumman maritime surveillance spy drones. The country first considered buying 12 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft in 2004, but in 2009 the plan was canceled. The next year three were considered, and the latest plan calls for seven of the Triton models. Global Hawks in all variants are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

-- Ground has been broken at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., for the Navy's training facility for the MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance unmanned system. It's the only Navy training center for the Navy's Triton. It also will house a new P-8A maintenance training facility. (Story)

Jacksonville is also home of the training facility for the Navy's Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. It opened in July. Typical training lasts about six weeks. Fire Scouts are also built in part at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point. (Post)

Get ready for a site you won't see again.

Space Shuttle Endeavour, mounted atop NASA's modified 747, will leave Sept. 17 from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., for its final ferry flight, this one to Los Angeles. Plans are for low-level fly-overs at multiple locations, including Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

SSC is where all the shuttle main engines were tested and Michoud is where all the external tanks were built. The 747 will fly at about 1,500 feet at each location, depending upon conditions. Stops are also scheduled along the way before it lands in Los Angeles. (Post)

-- The heat shield around the Space Launch System RS-25 engines will not be the same as the Space Shuttle Program. The decision was made to move to a lighter, more flexible blanket, similar to the ones used on other vehicles and on the aft skirt of the Solid Rocket Boosters.

The new blanket design will save about 700 pounds and will be easier to produce, assemble and install. The design change will debut during the test firings at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in what’s known as a "green run" test. (Post)

Composite Engineering Inc., Sacramento, Calif., was awarded a $7.3 million contract to procure 54 peculiar repairable spares for the Air Force Subscale Aerial Target BQM-167. The contracting activity is AFLCMC/EBYK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

Contract: Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd., parent company of VT Halter Marine, said its marine unit has won $143 million worth of shipbuilding and repair contracts. The contracts include two offshore support vessels for Hornbeck Offshore Services Inc., to be built by VT Halter Marine in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

Authentication: The keel of the Coast Guard National Security Cutter Hamilton (WMSL 753) was authenticated during the week at the company's Ingalls Shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Week in review (8/26 to 9/1)

Last week was dominated by Tropical Storm/Hurricane Isaac's unwelcome visit to the Gulf of Mexico and landfall in Louisiana. On the aerospace front, the storm prompted military bases in the region to send aircraft to other bases, and it also disrupted passenger service at the region’s airports. But by the end of the week those operations by and large had returned to normal.

None of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., had to be sent away. They are all housed in hangars that can withstand a Category 4 hurricane, according to a story in the Air Force Times.

Speaking of the F-35, Defense Professionals News, or “defpro,” had a story during the week about Col. Arthur Tomassetti, vice commander of Eglin's 33rd Fighter Wing, Air Education and Training Command.

The story points out that Tomassetti, with more than 3,200 flight hours on 35 different aircraft, has been a part of the Joint Strike Fighter program since its inception, and knows a lot about the industry's effort to create a plane that could perform short takeoffs and vertical landings while still being able to fly at speeds and be missile-capable.

"Whatever you want to believe about the F-35 today, we finally built the STOVL airplane we've been trying to build for 60 years," he said. It's a story about both Tomassetti and the F-35 program, and a good read to boot. (Post)

With Mobile, Ala., set to become the home of an A320 assembly line, anything involving that aircraft is of interest. A few items moved during the week involving that popular aircraft.

The 100th A320 came off China's Tianjin final assembly line Friday. Dignitaries from China and Europe were there for the event. That assembly line is the third one for the A320, the first one outside Europe. The others are in Toulouse, France, and Hamburg, Germany. Airbus announced the Mobile line in July.

The day before that plane rolled off the line, a new agreement was signed by Airbus and its Chinese partners, the Tianjin Free Trade Zone and AVIC (Aviation Industry Corp. of China) to continue the joint agreement for the plant beyond the business plan that expires in 2016. (Post) By the way, AVIC is the company that bought Teledyne Continental in Mobile, Ala. Previous

Airbus also sold more planes to China. ICBC Financial Leasing Co. of China signed an agreement with Airbus to buy 30 A320ceo and 20 A320neo aircraft. The deal is worth some $4 billion. An ICBC official said the planes were ordered in anticipation of increasing demand of the aviation markets in China, Asia Pacific region and the world. (Post)

In addition, Philippine Airlines placed a firm order with Airbus for 34 A321ceo, 10 A321neo and 10 A330-300s. The aircraft are being bought under a fleet modernization program, with deliveries starting in 2013. (Post)

To date, over 8,500 A320 family aircraft have been ordered and more than 5,200 delivered to 365 customers and operators worldwide, according to Airbus.

NASA during the week completed another test of the Orion spacecraft parachutes at the Yuma Army Proving Ground in Arizona. The test was to examine the maximum pressure that Orion's parachutes might face when returning to Earth. A C-130 dropped a dart-shaped test vehicle with a simulated Orion parachute compartment from 25,000 feet.

Orion will be launched in 2017 by NASA's Space Launch System. Stennis Space Center, Miss., will test the engines for SLS, and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans is building the Orion and will build the core stage of SLS. (Post)

Crew failure caused the CV-22 Osprey crash near Navarre that injured five airmen in June, according to an Air Force investigation. The Osprey, assigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., was flying in formation when it failed to keep clear of the leading aircraft's wake. It went into a roll, crashed and burned. (Post)

DTS Aviation Services Inc. was awarded an $8 million contract modification for aircraft maintenance at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Work is to be completed by Nov. 30, 2012. The contracting activity is 14 CON/LGC, Columbus Air Force Base. … B.L. Harbert International LLC, Birmingham, Ala., was awarded an $8.9 million contract for construction of a Troop Medical Clinic at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Estimated completion date is Aug. 29, 2014. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile, Ala., is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Corp., Ft. Worth, Texas, was awarded a $206.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract that provides for the System Development and Demonstration Phase I Increment 1, in support of F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) Air System for the Government of Israel under the Foreign Military Sales Program. … EADS-NA, Herndon, Va., was awarded a $33.5 million modification of an existing contract to procure Security and Support Mission Equipment Packages for the UH-72A Weapon System. Work will be performed in Columbus, Miss., with an estimated completion date of Aug. 31, 2014.

JHSV: Austal USA's USNS Spearhead completed Navy acceptance trials in the Gulf of Mexico last month. The Joint High Speed Vessel built in Mobile, Ala., demonstrated the catamaran's propulsion plant, ship handling and auxiliary systems. (Post)

LPD: The amphibious transport dock Arlington, LPD 24, built by Ingalls Shipbuilding, returned to Pascagoula, Miss., from builder's sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico. More than 200 test events took place during the trials, including anchor handling, flight operations, ballasting and de-ballasting the well deck, and compartment air balancing. (Post)

Hurricane: The Ingalls Shipbuilding facilities in Pascagoula and Gulfport, Miss., and Avondale, La., are closed until Sept. 4 so damages from Hurricane Isaac can be assessed. (Post)