Saturday, November 24, 2012

Week in review (11/18 to 11/24)

A way for suppliers to hook up with Airbus; the ownership issue with EADS; F-16 drones at Tyndall Air Force Base; the return of F-22s to the air; the first UK pilots training on the F-35; formation of the first operational F-35 squadron; and solar power at Fort Rucker highlight the aerospace news of interest to the Gulf Coast during the week.

Here’s your week in review:

Interested in being a supplier for Airbus? You now have a tool at your disposal. The company's website has a tab that allows companies to register to become a supplier for the company's global operations and the $600 million A320 assembly facility that will be built in Mobile, Ala., at Brookley Aeroplex. Here's the link. (Post)

Speaking of the A320, China Eastern Airlines, one of that country's three major carriers, said Friday that it will buy 60 Airbus A320 aircraft in a deal worth $5.4 billion. That's according to several published reports. Shanghai-based China Eastern said the new aircraft will be delivered in stages from 2014 to 2017. Sales of A320s are of interest to Mobile, Ala., since it will begin building them in 2015.

Another topic of high interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region is the ownership of Airbus parent EADS. Early in the week Reuters reported that France and Germany were discussing a compromise where each country would hold around 12 percent of the aircraft maker. It's a complicated ownership structure, and that became apparent during the failed attempt to merge EADS and the UK's BAE Systems. (Post)

The first QF-16 drone for developmental testing arrived at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., early last week. QF-16 is a supersonic reusable full-scale aerial target drone modified from an F-16 Fighting Falcon. Right now the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group uses QF-4s, made from 1960s F-4 Phantom, to conduct their full-scale aerial target missions. The targets allow the Air Force and allied nations to have a realistic understanding of what they could face on the battlefield. Boeing Global Services and Support will conduct testing on the QF-16. (Post)

The first operational squadron of F-35s began forming during the week at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., with the redesignation of an F/A-18 squadron as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121. The squadron has received two F-35Bs, which can take off and land like a helicopter. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

Last week, the first two United Kingdom pilots started training with the F-35. They joined the U.S. Marines Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, which is conducting initial training and instruction on the F-35B at Eglin. The U.K. pilots will take academic courses for about six weeks before they go on their first flights. (Post)

The 325th Fighter Wing resumed normal flight operations early in the week. Col. David Graff, the wing commander, stood the wing flying operations down following the crash of an F-22. In that incident, the pilot ejected safely and nobody on the ground was injured. Graff was the first to take to the air in an F-22. (Post)

A photovoltaic array being installed at Fort Rucker, Ala., is expected to save the Army money. The 51-kilowatt array is directly connected to Alabama Power's electrical grid, so any energy that is generated at Hatch Stage Field that isn't used can be fed back onto the grid. Fort Rucker is the primary flight training base for Army aviation. (Post)

Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $6.4 million contract to provide flight support for the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air missile. The location of the performance is Tucson, Ariz. The contracting activity is AFLCMC/EBAD, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

Dolphins: NOAA appointed an enforcement officer to investigate the mutilation and deaths of dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico. He's Richard Stifel, an enforcement officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Post)

Contract: Exelis Inc., Alexandria, Va., was awarded a $93.3 million contract to design, procure, install and maintain the Adaptive Persistent Awareness Systems. Work will be performed in various naval facilities worldwide. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity. (Post)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Week in review (11/11 to 11/17)

A briefing by the chairman of Airbus Americas, another step forward for Eglin's F-35 program, the crash of an F-22 at Tyndall, an expansion at L-3 Crestview Aerospace, groundbreaking for a resort on Air Force land and a couple of projects tied to the Airbus assembly line were among the stories of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor.

Here's your week in review.

Participants in a media tour on Friday got a briefing from Allen McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas, about the company's plans to build a $600 million plant at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala. It's so big, he doesn't think people will recognize this region in 20 years.

He said Brookley Aeroplex and the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor "is going to become one of those ‘holy cow we never thought that this was going to be as big as it is'" type of places. "I'm actually convinced that your horizon 20-25 years out, people are going to say I had no idea, no idea of the impact this would have." But the things that attracted Airbus won't go away.

McArtor said the A320 family of planes that will be build in Mobile is a program that has legs since it will be produced for years to come. It's a better deal for the region than the aerial tanker would have been or another Airbus aircraft.

Ground will be broken, ceremonially, in April 2013. Once finished, the assembly line will have the capacity to produce eight planes a month, though four is the plan right now. And the company has enough additional space available to build another campus.

Airbus has started to talk to research universities in the region about collaborative efforts. Along the Gulf Coast there are multiple research universities, some with full campuses, others with important programs. Many are involved in aerospace research or research related to aerospace, including advanced materials, human-machine cognition and others. He said he believes Airbus has an obligation to stimulate the state of the art by collaborating with universities.

Airbus also plans to be fully engaged in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities at the middle and high school levels. "I hope you see Airbus fingerprints on the educational systems of the Gulf Coast," he said.

Once the planes roll off the line in 2016, they'll become a common sight in the skies of this region. McArtor said there are several operating areas in the region where the planes could conduct acceptance flights, both over land and over the Gulf of Mexico. The list includes military operating areas. "There are a number of options," he said. Each plane will have builder acceptance flights and customer acceptance flights.

McArtor is clearly excited about the future of this region, and what the Mobile campus can be. "I intend to make this the example within Airbus," so when projects come down the pike Mobile will be a strong contender.

He said one of the appealing aspects of producing in the United States is the wealth of boutique suppliers. Airbus is already spending $12 billion a year in the United States, and expects to double that. It will be buying everything from materials for the new assembly line to parts for the jetliners.

"We're getting drowned with calls right now, but that's OK," he said.

Lots of companies are interested in becoming suppliers. Earlier in the media tour, the folks from L-3 Crestview Aerospace in Crestview, Fla., made it clear they're pursuing work with Airbus. As Jeff Barger, vice president and general manager put it, "we're all over it."

The company, which has had a high degree of success in the defense market, is gearing up to pursue commercial contracts, and Airbus is a part of that plan. L-3 Crestview Aerospace is one of the companies in the "halo" area that McArtor talks about. Over the next few years L-3 Crestview Aerospace has expansion plans that will increase its footprint at Bob Sikes Airport, near Crestview, by 25 percent.

Work is already under way on the expansion. The company announced during the week that it's investing more than $7 million in facilities upgrades, including the retrofit of hangar space. As part of these expansion activities, L-3 CA has increased its workforce. (Post)

-- Although ground won't be broken on the Airbus plant until next year, work is well underway to prepare for the assembly line. The Mobile Press Register wrote during the week that Watermark Design Group was chosen to design the first structure associated with Airbus’ plant at Brookley Aeroplex. The 35,000-square-foot, multi-story training facility for the Alabama Industrial Development Training program will house labs and classrooms to train potential Airbus employees. (Post)

The newspaper earlier reported that some $12 million could be spent to repave or completely restore roads near Brookley. The City Council approved an engineering portion on one of those contracts: a $105,000 with Geotechnical Engineering-Testing Inc., for soil and concrete testing along the deteriorated Broad Street between 15th Street and Interstate 10. (Post)

-- A relative, so to speak, of Airbus got a contract award during the week. The U.S. Army awarded EADS North America a $181.8 million contract option to deliver 34 more UH-72A Lakota helicopters, bringing the total aircraft ordered to date to 312. EADS North America has delivered 243 Lakotas from its American Eurocopter plant in Columbus, Miss., where up to five aircraft per month are produced. American  Eurocopter is part of EADS North America, a subsidiary of EADS. Airbus is also a subsidiary of EADS. (Post)

Economic development
Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce President Win Hallett is retiring next year. He made the announcement at the annual board of directors meeting Friday. Hallett, who has been president since 1991, will retire when a successor is on board.

The chamber is the lead industry recruiter for the Mobile area, and has played a prominent role in a string of Mobile job recruitment wins, most notably the decision of Airbus to build an A320 assembly plant at Brookley Aeroplex. (Post)

I've known Hallett since the early 90s, when I worked for the Mobile newspaper, first as a business reporter and later the business editor. He's always been approachable, the epitome of a Southern gentleman with a wealth of knowledge about Mobile and, importantly, the state and region. In fact, some of our earliest conversations concerned a regional approach to economic development.

It almost seems like short-changing Hallett just to mention Airbus. You can add Austal and Thyssen Krupp to that list, as well as many other projects. But I know Hallett well enough that I'll predict he'll remain engaged.

Last week I wrote about another economic development leader, Larry Sassano, leaving the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County after more than 15 years as president. But he's not going away. He's taking over as head of Florida's Great Northwest, a group representing 16 counties in the Panhandle. He reflected on the future in an interview with the Northwest Florida Daily News. (Post)

The $25 million hotel that will be built on Eglin Air Force Base property on Okaloosa Island, Fla., will be a Holiday Inn. Innisfree and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are partnering on the project. A groundbreaking for the 152-room resort was held Friday. The hotel will have two towers, and the Air Force will have radar stations on the roofs. The Air Force will collect rent from the developers. (Post)

At Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Col. David Graff took command of the 325th Fighter Wing from Brig. Gen. John K. McMullen. The change of command ceremony was Wednesday. (Post). McMullen, who is moving to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to become Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Headquarters Allied Air Command, took his "fini flight" in an F-22 Raptor Nov. 9. The fini flight marks the end of a pilot's flying time at a unit. (Post)

It didn’t take long before Graff had a rather unpleasant issue to deal with. An F-22 on a routine training mission crashed inside the perimeter of the base Thursday afternoon. But on the bright side, the pilot ejected and nobody on the ground was hurt. The Panama City News Herald reported that Graff said there was nothing to indicate the crash was connected with the oxygen issue that caused the grounding of F-22s last year. (Post)

Further to the west over at Eglin Air Force Base, another high-tech aircraft hit a milestone. The last of 24 sorties of the Operational Utility Evaluation of the F-35 was completed Wednesday afternoon. That’s a big step towards opening the F-35 training pipeline.

Lt. Col. Brian O’Neill, 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron director of operations and a “student” in the OUE at Eglin, was at the controls. The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at Kirkland Air Force Base, N.M., will certify the OUE is complete in the near future.

Air Force officials started the F-35A OUE Sept. 10. In the evaluation data is collected from all facets of F-35 training, including maintenance, classroom, simulator and flights as a precursor for the Air Force to train other services and allies. (Post)

Raytheon Co., Missile Systems Division, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded an $18.4 million contract modification for the high-speed, anti-radiation Missile Targeting System R7 contractor logistics support services. The contracting activity is AFLCMC/EBAK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Week in review (11/4 to 11/10)

Production begins on the maritime version of Global Hawk; the first ad for a job at Airbus' plant in Mobile; word from Boeing that its sales are ahead of Airbus; the 500-sortie milestone for the F-35; positive reports from pilots and maintainers about the F-35; a memorial service at Eglin; and a change of command for the Blue Angels were among the aerospace news items of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Here's your week in review:

Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., this week will begin production of the Triton unmanned system, a variant of the Global Hawk being built for the Navy for maritime surveillance. That's according to the Sun Herald. The 101,000 square-foot plant will work on the central fuselages of the first three of what will eventually be 68 Navy Tritons.

The MQ-4C Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft has a different sensor payload than the Air Force, German or NASA versions of the Global Hawk. The Moss Point plant does central fuselage work for all variants of the Global Hawk. It also does finishing work on the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. (Post)

Speaking of unmanned aerial systems, Camp Shelby, a 137,000-acre training center south of Hattiesburg, Miss., is a key training center for the smaller unmanned systems like Puma, Raven and Shadow. National Guard, reserve and active duty soldiers come to the flight center, which opened in the spring, for training with those systems.

Camp Shelby Joint Training Center is the nation's largest state-owned mobilization center. Earlier this year it was selected as the site of the new $48 million regional flight center for the Army National Guard's Unmanned Aircraft System. It was chosen from 19 sites, and has been used by many tactical unmanned air system units for training prior to overseas deployment.

The Hattiesburg American had a feature story about the training. (Post)

The Gulf Coast region is heavily involved in unmanned systems. As mentioned above, Fire Scout and Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., and the military trains with UAVs not only at Camp Shelby, but at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

And more is to come to the region. Over in Okaloosa County, Fla., economic development leaders hope to develop a 45,000-square-foot Autonomous Vehicle Center that will be used to test small unmanned air and ground vehicles. Plans are to build the $4.5 million Autonomous Vehicle Center at the University of Florida's Research and Engineering Education Facility near Eglin Air Force Base.

Airbus posted its first ad for a job at the plant it will build at Mobile's Brookley Aeroplex. It's for a director of human resources, according to the Mobile Press-Register. The $600 million plant that will assemble the A320 family of jetliners will eventually employ 1,000 people.

The announcement was released in cooperation with Alabama Industrial Development Training, Airbus' Alabama-based recruiting partner. Construction will begin in summer 2013, with aircraft assembly is planned to start in 2015. The first delivery will be in 2016. (Post)

That assembly line in Mobile will have an impact across Alabama and the Southeast through new suppliers, new jobs and new business for the state's existing industrial base. That's according to Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas Inc., who was keynote speaker Friday at a Birmingham Business Alliance luncheon.

McArtor, who said Birmingham is well within the supply-chain radius for the plant, also pointed out that Airbus is an innovative company and said there's potential for Airbus to collaborate with Alabama's universities. (Post)

No doubt if Birmingham is in that supply-chain radius, a lot of areas along the coast are as well.

-- The fuel-efficient version of the A320, the A320neo, will be shown off at the 9th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition Nov. 13-18 in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai. A scale cutaway of the neo will be displayed at the EADS stand. It's the first time for Airbus to showcase an A320neo model in China. (Post)

-- Meanwhile, Airbus rival Boeing reported it has secured more than 1,000 net new orders so far this year, putting it on course to sell more aircraft than Airbus for the first time since 2006. The orders are primarily driven by airliner demand for 737 narrow-body jets. Boeing sales are running at more than double those of Airbus. (Post)

-- Boeing is restructuring its defense, space and security businesses with plans to reduce
management positions 30 percent and close and consolidate several facilities in California. The company says the change is not directly related to sequestration or the presidential election. Boeing has operations along the Gulf Coast. (Post)

The F-35 surpassed its 500th sortie 16 days after reaching the 400 mark and only 238 days from the beginning of the program. Maj. Matthew Johnston of the 58th Fighter Squadron completed the 500th combined sortie for both the F-35A and F-35B at the 33rd Fighter Wing Nov. 2. The wing started flight operations March 6. (Post)
-- Initial feedback about the F-35 from Air Force pilots and maintainers at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., indicate it performs better than its predecessors did at a similar stage of development. The F-35 is proving to be relatively stable from a maintenance standpoint, said Col Andrew Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing. (Post)

A memorial service was held Monday for Maj. Garrett Knowlan at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Knowlan died Oct. 11 while participating in survival training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. At the time of his death, Knowlan was serving as the executive officer for Brig. Gen. David Harris, the 96th Test Wing commander. (Post)

-- Capt. Greg McWherter, who has led the Blue Angels for the past four years, turned over command during a ceremony the day after the team's final show of the season last weekend. The new leader is Cmdr. Tom Frosch, who’s been in the Navy for 20 years. The team is based at Naval Air Station Pensacola. (Post)

Economic development
Larry Sassano is leaving Okaloosa County's economic development group Nov. 30 to take the top spot at Florida's Great Northwest. Kay Rasmussen, vice president of community and economic development for the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council, was named interim director of the Okaloosa EDC. (Post)

L-3 Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a  $28.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for organizational, selected intermediate and limited depot level maintenance for F-16, F-18, H-60 and E-2C aircraft operated by the adversary squadrons based at Naval Air Station, Fallon, Nev. … Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $12.3 million contract modification for the delivery of modified control sections for the High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (AGM-88). The contracting activity is AFLCMC/EBAS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

LPD 24: The amphibious transport dock Arlington (LPD 24) returned from successful Navy acceptance sea trials. While in the Gulf of Mexico, there were more than 200 test events. (Post)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Week in review (10/28 to 11/3)

A decision to provide more land for Air Force training and progress on the high-tech F-35 helmet highlighted aerospace activities of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week. Here's your week in review:

The Air Force will be allowed to conduct training exercises on state forest lands in the
Florida Panhandle. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Florida Forest Service signed an agreement that allows the Air Force to use some areas in the Blackwater River State Forest and Tate's Hell State Forest near Apalachicola.

Specifics of how and when the lands will be used will be determined over the next few months.

David Core, assistant director of the Forest Service, told the Northwest Florida Daily News that the military is vital to the economy, and it needs more room. As Eglin has continued to grow, the Air Force approached the state about using the land to increase its capacity to conduct training missions, Brig. Gen. David Harris, commander of the 96th Test Wing, wrote in an e-mail to the paper. He said the extra space will alleviate congestion. (Post)

The Air Force is a major landowner in Northwest Florida. Eglin Air Force Base is 450,000 acres and Tyndall Air Force Base is about 30,000. The Navy is also a major landowner in Northwest Florida.

-- The Blue Angels performed Friday and Saturday in their final show of the season at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The Blue Angels always perform twice during the year in their hometown. One show is in the summer at Pensacola Beach and the homecoming is at the base.

Lockheed Martin reported progress with its cutting-edge helmets that will be used with the F-35. Executive VP Tom Burbage said the helmet's night-vision performance was the "only real question" left in resolving the helmet issues, but progress has been made on that.

The helmet, which integrates data from all sensors and cameras aboard the jet, was designed by a joint venture between Rockwell Collins Inc. and Israel's Elbit Systems. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

NASA provided businesses an update on the Space Launch System during a seminar at Michoud Assembly Facility during the week. It drew about 150 people. The core stage of the 70-ton SLS, designed to carry astronauts into deep space, will be built at Michoud by Boeing. The engines that will power two stages will be tested at Stennis Space Center, about 40 miles away in Mississippi. An unmanned test of SLS is scheduled for 2017. (Post)

-- John C. Stennis Space Center held an event on space travel and the center's role in space at the Wal-Mart in Picayune, Miss. Saturday. Activities included learning about how people live and work in space, hands-on educational activities and facts about the International Space Station. More than 5,000 people are employed at SSC, which has a $682 million in economic impact. (Post)

Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded an $18.3 million contract for integration and weapon verification support. Work is expected to be completed by December 2016. The contracting activity is AFLCMC/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

Austal: John "Dugan" Shipway, a retired Navy admiral, has been elected to chair the board of Austal USA in Mobile. Shipway, who spent 35 year in the Navy, joined the Austal USA board in March as an outside director. (Post)

Ingalls: Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. is holding a job fair Nov. 8 in Pensacola, Fla., hoping to eventually hire nearly 2,000 workers for Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

McIlwain: Longtime marine biologist Thomas D. McIlwain died after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 71. McIlwain had a 50-year career and spend most of his time at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Miss. (Post)