Saturday, February 2, 2013

Week in review (1/27 to 2/2)

Plans for a new hangar at Bob Sikes airport in Crestview; a decision soon on whether ST Aerospace will set up an operation in Pensacola; changes in leadership at two airports; the retirements of the leader of a museum foundation and the long-time head of Lockheed Martin's F-35 program; a decision to build the Dream Chaser spacecraft in New Orleans; and the pending return to flight of the F-35B were among the news items of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Here's the week in review:

A Pensacola developer wants to build a huge hangar at Crestview's Bob Sikes Airport to attract an aerospace company. Dan Gilmore, owner of RONDAN Investments, will lease land from the county to build a 137,000-square-foot hangar. He says he’s certain an aerospace company will lease it.

Mike Stenson, deputy airport director, said he gets calls all the time from large aerospace companies interested in a presence at Bob Sikes, and the number one question is if there's available hangar space. Right now the answer is no.

Stenson said the planned hangar would be large enough to hold three C-130s. The general aviation airport has an 8,005-foot runway and is 1,020 acres. The 360-acre Okaloosa-Crestview Industrial Airpark is nearby. (Post)

-- A decision on Singapore-based ST Aerospace's proposed expansion is near, according to a Pensacola News Journal columnist. Greater Pensacola Chamber CEO Jim Hizer told his board recently that the project would be a game-changer for Pensacola's plans to develop an aerospace industrial park at Pensacola International Airport.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward told the board that the Florida Department of Transportation offered $14 million for property acquisition at the airport to land the company, which provides maintenance services. Hayward said he spoke with a top ST executive recently at the company's Mobile, Ala., headquarters and word should come soon. (Post)

Speaking of Pensacola's airport, that facility will be getting a new director in May. It's Greg Donovan, currently head of the airport system in Okaloosa County, which includes Northwest Florida Regional Airport, the Destin Airport and Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview.

Donovan is no stranger to the airport. He was the assistant director of the Pensacola airport for seven years prior to taking the job in Okaloosa County. Donovan, who lives in Gulf Breeze, will be taking over the most active airport in Northwest Florida. Its closest competitors are Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base and Alabama’s Mobile Regional Airport.

Airport officials in Pensacola hope to extend runway 17/35 from the current 7,000 feet to 8,500 feet to accommodate larger aircraft. Also in the works is a 65-acre commerce park at the airport's northwest quadrant. (Post)

-- While we’re discussing personnel changes, Gerald Hoewing, a retired Navy vice admiral, announced during the week that he plans to step down as president and chief executive of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. That's the organization that manages and provides financial support for the National Museum of Naval Aviation and National Flight Academy, both at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Hoewing, 63, will step down in May. (Post)

-- OK, another personnel change. The head of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program plans to retire, ending a decade-plus run in charge of the program. Tom Burbage will step down from his role at the end of March, Lockheed spokeswoman Laura Siebert confirmed to Defense News. The news was initially reported by Aviation Week. Nothing has been announced on his replacement. (Post)

Anything on the F-35 is of high interest in this region since Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center. So here are a couple of other items that moved during the week.

A fuel line issue that grounded F-35Bs has been isolated and the jets will resume flights soon. The investigation determined the fueldraulic line, which uses fuel rather than hydraulic fluid to move the actuator for the exhaust system, was improperly crimped, officials said.

The short-takeoff and landing variant of the F-35 was grounded after a Jan. 16 test flight at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The conventional and carrier variants were not affected. (Post)

-- Assembly of the 100th Lockheed Martin F-35 is under way at the production facility in Fort Worth, Texas. F-35 technicians are in the final phase of building the wings that will be installed on the 100th aircraft known as AF-41.

AF-41, a conventional takeoff and landing variant, is one of 88 F-35s in various stages of completion on Lockheed Martin production lines Fort Worth and Marietta, Ga., as well as supplier locations worldwide. The jet will be delivered to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., for pilot training. (Post)

Air Force Reserve Command officials are moving forward with force structure changes
authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2013. Among other things, the legislation authorizes new Air Force Reserve intelligence squadrons at four installations, including Hurlburt Field, Fla. (Post)

-- If you see a lot of boats in Choctawhatchee Bay near Fort Walton Beach, Fla., early this month, they may be targets for Eglin Air Force Base jets. Starting Tuesday, the 96th Operations Group will be using about 30 boats as targets for F-15s and F-16s, but no weapons will be used. Similar operations will be conducted again the week of Feb. 11-15. Operations the week of Feb. 11 will also be conducted in the Gulf of Mexico, south of Destin. (Post)

Lockheed Martin has joined Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Dream Chaser team. The partnership will leverage Lockheed Martin's expertise in human spaceflight and composite aerospace structures. Lockheed Martin will assemble the composite structure for the first space-bound Dream Chaser vehicle at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

Sierra Nevada is developing the Dream Chaser spacecraft under NASA's commercial crew program, vying to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA is turning to the private sector for human transportation to low Earth orbit now that the space shuttle is retired.

Plans are to launch the spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V. (Post)

-- NASA is balking at plans by Space Florida to build a new commercial launch pad near Kennedy Space Center. The Orlando Sentinel reports that state officials in Tallahassee and Washington are rushing to persuade the agency to change its mind.
SpaceX of California is considering several locations for its next launch pad. Texas has an early edge, but Georgia, Puerto Rico and Florida are in the running as well. The proposed Florida site is the abandoned town of Shiloh to the north of Kennedy Space Center.

The state wants to convert 150 acres of that property into a spaceport with two launch pads far enough from KSC and Cape Canaveral that rockets could be launched without having to schedule missions between ones flown by NASA and the Air Force. NASA says the land is not considered excess and it's needed as a buffer zone, and might be used by NASA in the future.

NASA, by the way, is protective of its buffer zones. It has a big one around Stennis Space Center, Miss. Maintaining the buffer zone has allowed the space agency to use SSC to test the largest of rocket engines. (Story)

-- NASA chose nine universities last month to share $2.25 million in research funds to work on projects for the Space Launch System. The nine includes Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, Auburn University and the University of Florida. Part of the rocket will be built at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and the engines will be tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Story)

Florida's Great Northwest has added to its website a 72-page book profiling nearly two dozen aerospace operations in Northwest Florida and two in Alabama. Each activity has a two-page briefing paper that includes an overview, contact information and interesting facts. Activities highlighted range from the Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion in Tallahassee to the National Flight Academy in Pensacola and much more. Because Airbus will have such an impact on this region when it sets up its A320 production line in Mobile, Ala., briefing papers on Airbus and Mobile's Brookley Aeroplex are included in the book.

OK, a disclosure here. Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor did the research and compiled the information for the publication, so I may be a bit partial about the value of the work. But it's a free download, so checking it out will cost you nothing. To download the PDF, click here.

While on the topic of books, let me remind you that another book on the broader aerospace region between New Orleans and Northwest Florida is also available for free. It provides an overview on the major aerospace activities in the region, from space to unmanned systems and more. Researched and written by the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League, the third edition of this book will be available in July. The download is free thanks to the support of underwriters. Oh yes, the disclosure. I'm one of the authors. To download the 86-page PDF, click here.

Zumwalt: The Navy is looking at building an alternative deckhouse for DDG-1002, the final proposed Zumwalt-class destroyer. The current Zumwalt deckhouse is constructed of composite materials at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Gulfport, Miss. In a Jan. 3 solicitation the Navy said it has a potential requirement for a steel deckhouse. The solicitation comes as the Navy and Ingalls have begun negotiations on building the ship’s deckhouse. (Post)

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