Saturday, February 16, 2013

Week in review (2/10 to 2/16)

Some time back I wrote that I might have to start doing this column twice a week because so much goes on in aerospace and defense in this region. Well the time has come.

Starting this week, in addition to this Saturday review of the week's aerospace news, I’ll have a column mid-week, Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon. It may be a story, it may be an analysis, it may be an opinion piece. I may even call on associates to write a guest column.

The topic will be aerospace or a relevant field, like advanced materials or sensors, or perhaps robotics and artificial intelligence, considering the growing use of unmanned systems. Feel free to write to me to suggest topics. You can reach me at

The page views for this column have been slowly rising, indicating there are a lot of folks out there interested in the goings-on of the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor. A lot of the audience is from overseas, which is encouraging for a region interested in attracting foreign investors. Providing readers with additional information made sense to me.

If you subscribe to the Saturday column, there's no need to take any action. You’ll get the additional column when it's posted. If you go to the blog or the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor website to read it, don't forget to check during the week.

Now here's the week in review:

It' something a lot of folks have been waiting for. It finally happened late last week. The federal government is now looking for proposals in order to establish six test sites where unmanned aircraft will be put through tests in preparation for their eventual integration into U.S. airspace.

More than 30 states, one article noted 35, have expressed interest in getting one of the sites that will become the primary testing grounds for unmanned aerial systems that are scheduled to enter U.S. airspace in September 2015. The chosen sites promise to be hotbeds for research and development, and are likely to attract companies involved in unmanned aerial systems.

The FAA is behind schedule and it's unclear when the six winning sites will be chosen. The FAA had given itself a Dec. 31, 2012, deadline to name the six sites but the effort was delayed due to privacy issues. Those concerns remain, and some states have taken steps to regulate the use of drone surveillance. (Post)

A test site in this region would make sense. The Gulf Coast region is heavily involved in building and using UAVs. Fire Scouts and Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., and the airport in Moss Point has a certificate of authorization to fly UAVs.

The Army National Guard opened a $48 million UAV flight center at Camp Shelby, Miss., south of Hattiesburg, last spring. Over at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., special warfare personnel use UAVs in training. Over in Okaloosa County, Fla., there's a push to develop an indoor unmanned systems center near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

There are also activities in underwater systems in this region. The Naval Oceanographic Office at Stennis Space Center operates a fleet of underwater robots, and researchers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City also work with underwater and surface robot vessels. Eglin recently put out a request for companies to develop robots that can help it recover air-delivered test weapons that end up on the Gulf of Mexico.

On top of all that, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla., does research in human and machine interaction, certainly an important part of UAVs. This region seems a natural for having one of those six FAA sites.

The problem for the Gulf Coast region is that each state that has a piece of this region is likely to make separate pitches, and perhaps for other areas of their state. Florida’s Space Florida, for instance, is expected to pitch the area around Kennedy Space Center, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Is anyone watching out for the Gulf Coast region?

Some good news came down the pike during the week for Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., home of the F-35 training center. Flight restrictions have been lifted on the F-35B, the Marine Corps version of the stealth fighter. That cleared the way for testing and training flights to resume after a nearly month-long grounding.

But officials say more work still needs to be done on the manufacturing issues blamed for the grounding. All 25 F-35Bs were grounded Jan. 18 after a fuel line detached just before a training flight at Eglin on Jan. 16. The Pentagon later said the issue stemmed from a manufacturing defect, not maintenance or design issues. (Post)

-- United Technologies Corp., Pratt and Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $65 million cost-plus-incentive-fee modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract for the Joint Strike Fighter F135 Propulsion System Low Rate Initial Production Lot VI recurring sustainment, operations, and maintenance efforts.

Efforts include labor and materials required to maintain and repair F135 propulsion systems; sustainment labor consisting of fleet and material management, sustaining engineering, and joint services technical data updates; and material required to support fielded propulsion systems and support equipment after unit and depot activations at production, training, and operational locations. This contract combines purchases for the Marines (69 percent); Air Force (26 percent); and the Navy (5 percent). (Post)

NASA's is getting ready for a new round of tests on the J-2X engine that will help power the agency's Space Launch System. Beginning this month, engineers will conduct a series of tests on the second J-2X development engine, number 10002, on the A-2 Test Stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss.

Once the series is completed, the engine will be transferred to the A-1 Test Stand to undergo a series of gimbal, or pivot, tests for the first time. NASA already has conducted 34 tests on engine number 10001 and on the J-2X powerpack assembly. The J-2X achieved a full flight-duration firing of 500 seconds in the eighth test. (Post)

-- In another step forward in the SLS program, NASA engineers demonstrated the Orion spacecraft can land safely if one of its three main parachutes fails to inflate during deployment. The test was conducted during the week in Yuma, Ariz., with the parachutes attached to a test article dropped from a plane from 25,000 feet. The test was the eighth parachute engineering development drop test, with the next slated for May.

The system also will be put to the test in 2014 when Orion, the crew capsule for the SLS, makes its first flight test. The uncrewed capsule will travel 3,600 miles from Earth. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, are both involved in the Space Launch System program. (Post)

-- NASA for years has pointed out how space technology has made its way into commercial products. The latest issue of Spinoff 2012 illustrates more of the same. It includes details
about a plant that texts a farmer to say it needs more water; an invisible coating that scrubs pollutants from the air; a robot that roams a hospital's halls, aiding doctors and nurses by recording vital signs. NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., was involved in developing the coatings. (Post)

At Hurlburt Field, Fla., Air Force Special Operations Command will be required to implement spending cuts that will have substantial impact on its mission if sequestration takes effect March 1. The command has undertaken several near-term actions to save money such as implementing a temporary civilian hiring freeze, releasing non-mission critical term and temporary employees, cancelling non-mission critical travel, limiting supply purchases, reducing service contracts, postponing non-emergency facility sustainment, curtailing flying not directly related to readiness, and reviewing Overseas Contingency Operation requirements. (Post)

-- At a ceremony early in the week, the Air Force dissolved the Special Operations Training Center at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and rolled its mission into the Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center. The new center will combine training and education with weapons testing and evaluation, as well as preparing airmen to deploy for counter-insurgency operations.

The Air Warfare Center will oversee the missions of all the units that fell under the former training center at Hurlburt, and add the 919th Air Reserves Special Operations Wing at Duke Field, Fla., and two Air Guard units in Mississippi and Alabama. Headquarters for the Air Warfare Center will be at Hurlburt Field, with operating locations at Duke Field and Robins Air Force Base, Ga. About 850 active-duty and 900 reserve airmen will fall under the center's command. (Post)

-- Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 77, VAW-77, will be ceremonially disbanded next month. Its six E-2C Hawkeye airplanes and many of its personnel already have been redistributed elsewhere in the U.S. Navy’s fleet. Its aircrews made their last flights out of the Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse late last month.

The Navy Reserve aviation squadron is credited with saving more than 1,840 New Orleans-area residents during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The squadron’s disestablishment ceremony is March 9 at the air station. (Post)

-- Community leaders recently attended a briefing at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., about the future arrival of an additional F-22 Raptor squadron. The F-22s are coming from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. The base handled two different tours by two different groups in a few days. (Post)

Here are a few corporate items of high interest to the Gulf Coast region:

American Airlines and US Airways are merging, paving the way for the creation of the nation’s largest airline. The deal is valued at $11 billion. Under the terms of the deal, US Airways shareholders would own 28 percent of the combined airline, while American Airlines shareholders, creditors, labor unions and employees would own 72 percent. The larger company will operated under the American Airlines name, with headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. Both airlines serve New Orleans, Gulfport, Mobile, Pensacola and Eglin. (Post)

-- In Italy, Finmeccanica SpA's board replaced Giuseppe Orsi as chief executive of the Italian aero-defense group after his arrest in a bribery probe, naming the company's chief operating officer in his place. Finmeccanica said Alessandro Pansa will replace Orsi and take on the added responsibilities of chairman although he won't officially hold that title. Pansa will remain chief operating officer. Finmeccanica's Selex Galileo has operations in Kiln, Miss., and Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where the company's DRS also has an operation. (Story)

-- Rolls-Royce announced during the week that Ian Davis will succeed Sir Simon Robertson as chairman of the global power systems company. He'll join the board as a non-executive director on March 1, 2013 and take over from Robertson at the conclusion of the annual general meeting on May 2, 2013. Rolls-Royce has a naval propeller foundry in Pascagoula, Miss., and an engine testing facility at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Press release)

Universities Space Research Association, Columbia, Md., was awarded a $24.9 million contract for Air Force Research Lab Scholars Program. This agreement is optional use and allows for decentralized ordering by other AFRL Technical Directorates located in Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, Eglin AFB, Fla., and Rome, N.Y. … Oasis Systems LLC, Lexington, Mass., was awarded a $54.5 million contract modification for technical and acquisition management support services. The location of the performance is Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The contracting activity is AFTC/PZZ, Eglin AFB. Fla. … COLSA Corp., Huntville, Ala., was awarded a $54.5 million contract modification for technical and acquisition management support services. The location of performance is Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The contracting activity is AFTC/PZZ, Eglin AFB. Fla. … Rolls-Royce was awarded an $83.7 million contract for engines to power 19 V-22 aircraft operated by the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force. The contract, a modification of a prior agreement, includes a total of 38 Rolls-Royce AE 1107C engines. Air Force CV-22s operate out of Hurlburt Field, Fla. … NASA selected Jacobs Technology Inc. of Tullahoma, Tenn., for an engineering, technology and science contract at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Companies that will support Jacobs on this contract include HX5 of Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

VT Halter: VT Halter Marine secured a contract to build an articulated tug barge, with an optional second unit, for Bouchard Transportation Co. Construction will begin in April at VT Halter Marine’s Pascagoula facility. (Post)

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