Saturday, March 30, 2013

Week in review (3/24 to 3/30)

The competition to land one of the six FAA UAV test sites; a groundbreaking next month for an Airbus assembly line in Mobile, Ala.; sweeping changes at Airbus parent EADS; the first international student flies the F-35; an end to funding for the control tower near Stennis Space Center, Miss.; a change of command at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.; and an audit critical of NASA for the way it handled explosives at several NASA centers were among the stories of interest during the week for the Gulf Coast aerospace region.

Here's your week in review:

The Federal Aviation Administration received 50 applications from 37 states for its nationwide competition to select six research and test sites for integrating unmanned aircraft systems with manned aircraft. The FAA plans to select sites by the end of the year.

Why all the interest? The states competing believe gaining a test-site designation will help them build an unmanned system R&D and manufacturing cluster or expand an existing one. And considering the expected growth of the unmanned systems field, landing one could establish a region for years as an unmanned systems hotspot.

Sites will be evaluated based on geographic and climatic diversity, ground infrastructure, research needs, population and air traffic density, according to the FAA. The FAA is coordinating its efforts with the Department of Defense, NASA and Congress, as well as public agencies. Currently, the FAA has issued only a few hundred certificates for drone operators, but it forecasts that as many as 7,500 unmanned aircraft could be flying over the U.S. within five years. (Post)

Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi are among the 37 states that are competing to get a site. The FAA has put together a map showing which states are in the competition. Getting a test site somewhere in the Gulf Coast region makes good sense. We have a high level of UAV activity here, so it makes sense to pursue it. Pay in the field is good, and the R&D potential tremendous. Certainly a better option than pursuing call centers.

The FAA will hold an online public engagement session on Wednesday, April 3 from noon to 2 p.m. EDT to provide the public with an opportunity to comment on the agency's proposed privacy policy for unmanned aircraft systems. The FAA will provide an overview of the test site program and proposed privacy policy and then take comments. Each participant will have three minutes for comments. The FAA will listen and record all comments, but will not answer any questions during the session. Click here to register for the online session.

Airbus parent EADS won backing from shareholders for changes in its structure that emancipate it from political interference. Shareholders during the week tore up a Franco-German ownership pact in favor of greater management freedom.

Created from a merger of French, German and Spanish assets with a tight rein on strategy, Europe's answer to Boeing has often been swept up in Franco-German industrial tensions. It's the biggest shake-up since EADS was founded in 2000.

The changes follow last year’s failed attempted merger of EADS and BAE Systems, which would have given the company a stronger role in defense activities. (Post)

-- Airbus is bringing its top guns to Mobile, Ala., on April 8 for the groundbreaking of Airbus' $600 million assembly line. Tom Enders, CEO for Airbus parent EADS, Fabrice Bregier, president and CEO of Airbus; and John Leahy, COO Customers-Airbus, are all expected to attend. The Mobile plant, the fourth that will be assembling A320s, will start delivering its A320s by 2016. The A320 competes with Boeing’s 737. Airbus has retained a big lead in orders for the A320neo over Boeing's 737 Max. (Post)

United Technologies Corp. of Hartford, Conn., completed the sale of the former Goodrich electric power systems business to Safran for about $400 million. Sale of the electric power systems unit was one of the two divestitures required by regulatory authorities as a condition of UTC's acquisition of Goodrich. UT's Rocketdyne, which has an operation at Stennis Space Center, Miss., is being sold to GenCorp.; Goodrich has an operation in Foley, Ala.; Safran is building a $2 million engineering center in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

At Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the first international student aviator at the 33rd Fighter Wing training to be an F-35B instructor pilot completed his first sortie in the joint strike fighter March 19. United Kingdom Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Frankie Buchler flew with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron-501.

"The ground school training package at the Academic Training Center with the flight simulators prepared me for smooth flying," said Buchler. The ATC is part of the F-35 Integrated Training Center hosted by the 33rd FW.

It's the hub for U.S. and international partner operators and maintainers of the joint strike fighter. It takes 10 flight hours, or about six to seven sorties, for a student pilot transitioning from other aircraft to become a qualified F-35 pilot. Buchler's background is with the SEPECAT Jaguar and Eurofighter Typhoon. (Post)

Also on the international front, Singapore is expected to announce soon that it plans to buy its first squadron of 12 Lockheed Martin's F-35Bs. Singapore and the other Pacific countries have concluded that, despite the problems the F-35 program has faced, it’s effective. One senior official from the region, who has access to the most sensitive classified information about the system, told Colin Clark of AOL Defense that the F-35 is "simply undefeatable." And this official said the aircraft is expected to maintain its dominance for at least one quarter of a century. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $40.2 million advance-acquisition contract to provide long lead-time parts, materials and components required for the delivery of four Low Rate Initial Production Lot VIII F-35 conventional takeoff and landing aircraft for the government of Japan. Work will be done in Fort Worth, Texas, and is expected to be completed in February 2014. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting authority. (Post)

-- Three F-35s were formally recently accepted during a ceremony at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The aircraft will be assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron where they will undergo operational testing. One of the focus areas for the 422nd TES will be to develop tactics for the aircraft and pilots. Nellis is slated to get 36 F-35A Lightning IIs by 2020. The 422nd TES and 53rd TEG are geographically separated units of the 53rd Wing, headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

Funding to operate the control tower at Stennis International Airport near Stennis Space
Center, Miss., ends April 7. Stennis is one of 149 airports nationwide whose tower
operation is ending due to sequestration. Elsewhere in Mississippi, Greenville's airport tower will lose funding April 21, and the towers in Olive Branch, Tupelo and Hawkins in Jackson will be cut off May 5. (Post)

-- A former member of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team took the helm as commanding officer of Naval Air Station Pensacola. Capt. Keith Hoskins, 47, who flew with the Blues from 1999 to 2001, took over from Capt. Chris Plummer. Hoskins, whose career includes combat in Iraq, a total of 3,400 flight hours and 570 aircraft carrier landings, is also the first African American to head up NAS Pensacola. (Post)

NASA's inspector general said in a report released during the week that Stennis Space Center, Miss., stored explosives in an unsafe building during part of 2012, but the situation has since been changed. Inspector General Paul Martin's report said NASA's overall Explosives Safety Program "was poorly managed and exposed personnel and facilities to unnecessary risk."

Inspectors identified 155 violations of regulations, policies and procedures at four NASA centers that routinely procure, store, transport, and handle explosive materials, pyrotechnics, and propellants, or energetic materials. The primary locations for the audit were Glenn Research Center, Ohio, Stennis Space Center, Wallops Flight Facility, Va., and White Sands Test Facility, N.M. All had violations.

"To NASA's credit, personnel at each site quickly addressed the issues we uncovered that presented an immediate threat to personnel and facilities." (Post)

-- The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully completed the company's second cargo flight to the International Space Station with a 12:36 p.m. EDT splashdown Tuesday in the Pacific Ocean a few hundred miles west of Baja California, Mexico. The spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 1, carrying about 1,268 pounds of supplies and investigations. It returned about 2,668 pounds of science samples, equipment and education activities.

NASA's Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi, in addition to testing rocket engines for NASA, tests rocket engines for some commercial space companies. Lockheed Martin will assemble the composite structures for Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Michoud is also involved in NASA's Space Launch System project. (Post)

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $433.5 million contract for contractor logistics support for the RQ-4 Global Hawk fielded weapon system. Global Hawks are made in part in Moss Point, Miss. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded two contracts for aircraft maintenance. One was a $12.9 million modification to a previously awarded contract for logistics services support of the TH-57 aircraft fleet. Work will be done at Naval Air Station, Whiting Field, Milton, Fla., and is expected to be completed in June 2013. The other was a $10.6 million contract for maintenance and logistics services to support and maintain the T-39N and T-39G aircraft at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Work is expected to be completed in September 2014. … H2 Performance Consulting of Pensacola, Fla., was awarded Schedule 70 for Professional IT Services from the General Services Administration. IT Schedule 70 is a long-term contract issued by the GSA to a commercial technology vendor that signifies that the GSA has determined the vendor's pricing is fair and reasonable and the vendor is in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

VT Halter Marine: VT Halter Marine's multimillion-dollar south yard expansion is ready for bid. Jackson County Port Authority commissioners agreed unanimously to advertise the project for bid at a Thursday morning special meeting. (Post)

Survey ship: The 253-foot oceanographic survey vessel U.S. Naval Ship Maury was christened and launched Wednesday at VT Halter Marine's shipyard. The all-steel T-AGS 66 is an enhanced version of the T-AGS 60 class used by the Navy to gather data and provide information to the military and improve undersea warfare technology and ship detection. (Post)

Naval weapon system: General Dynamics Land Systems was awarded a $25.7 million contract to produce eight MK46 30mm Naval Weapon Systems for the U.S. Navy for use on San Antonio-class (LPD-17) ships and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class. Some of the work will be done in Tallahassee, Fla. San Antonio-class ships are built in Pascagoula, Miss., and one of two versions of the LCS is built in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Week in review (3/17 to 3/23)

A cutting-edge 3-D printed part is used on a rocket engine tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss.; Airbus fills its first position for the Mobile, Ala., operation; Boeing increases its footprint in South Carolina; a federal contract tower at Brookley Aeoplex is saved from the chopping block; and South Mississippi learns that 10 C-130Js at Keesler Air Force Base will be leaving were just some of the aerospace news items of interest to the Gulf Coast region that moved during the week.

Here's the week in review:

Not surprisingly, the latest in cutting-edge manufacturing is finding its way into space exploration. First there was friction stir welding on NASA's Orion crew capsule. Now Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., prime contractor for the J-2X engine, has used an advanced 3-D printing process called Selective Laser Melting to create an exhaust port cover for the engine.

SLM uses lasers to fuse metal dust into a specific pattern to build the cover, essentially a maintenance hatch for the engine's turbo pumps. On March 7, this part was exposed to the strenuous conditions of a rocket engine firing during a test at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, Miss., and will be a part of the rest of this test series.

The J-2X will be the propulsion system for the upper stage of NASA's Space Launch System, or SLS, which is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. (Post)

-- NASA during the week signed a one-year contract option with Jacobs Technology Inc., to continue manufacturing support and facilities operations at the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The contract will support critical operations under way at Michoud to advance the nation's human spaceflight endeavors, including work on the Orion spacecraft and modifications to manufacture the core stage of NASA's SLS. (Post)

Airbus landed a $24 billion order for 234 A320s from Indonesia's Lion Air Group during the week. Lion Air's Airbus order exceeds the order that the Indonesian carrier placed with Boeing in 2011 for 201 planes valued at $22 billion.

Any order for A320s is of high interest to Mobile, Ala., which will break ground April 8 on its $600 million final assembly line at Brookley Aeroplex. The bigger the backlog of orders, the more work for all Airbus’ A320 assembly lines. (Post)

By the way, the tower at Brookley was saved from the budget ax during the week. The story can be found below under the section about airports.

Speaking of the Mobile operation, Airbus Americas filled its first position related to the Brookley site. The company hired Jennifer Ogle, 49, as the new director of human resources. Ogle come to Airbus from Taylor-Wharton Cryogenics in Theodore, Ala., where she has been the human resources director since July 2011. She’ll join Airbus on April 15. Hiring for manufacturing jobs at the assembly line will begin during the fourth quarter of 2013 and continue into 2014. (Post)

-- American Airlines will equip all of its A320s with Airbus' Runway Overrun Prevention System technology. This on-board cockpit technology, which Airbus pioneered over several years, increases pilots' situational awareness during landing, reduces exposure to runway excursion risk, and if necessary, provides active protection. ROPS is in service or ordered on around 70 per cent of the A380 fleet. ROPS is part of the A350 XWB's basic configuration and is also being applied on the other Airbus types being produced today, starting with the A320 Family, with certification on this type expected later this year. (Post)

This bit of news is likely to make Boeing workers in Washington a bit uneasy. Boeing will pay $12.5 million for about 320 acres of land near its current 787 Dreamliner final assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C.

Boeing doesn't have specific plans, but the purchase, which still needs FAA approval, will provide land for possible future use. Boeing South Carolina performs final assembly for the 787 Dreamliner, currently grounded because of battery problems. The South Carolina facility also makes aft and mid-body sections for the 787.

A deal Boeing signed in December provides Boeing the option to buy 750 more acres in several parcels, including the 260 acres it sits on, currently leased for $1 a year from Charleston International Airport. If it exercises the option, by 2025 Boeing could own almost 1,100 acres, a near quadrupling in size. (Post)

The land could be used for a facility to assemble the planned 787-10, or a successor to the 737 series of jets that would be made mostly of composites, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal. Charleston has emerged as a center of composites manufacturing within the Boeing company. It's where the company fabricates the 787 rear fuselage sections and assembles the fuselage mid-bodies.

When the aviation authority first approved the concept of a purchase in January, Elliott Summey, vice chair of the Charleston County Council, said the purchase plan was promising. "In my mind, we're excited they chose Charleston a couple of years ago as one of their homes … On the pure possibility they may do something else, we're happy to sell them the property,” he said. (Story)

One of the "something else" possibilities that likely has Washington state concerned is where the upgraded Boeing 777 will be built. Boeing has promised to start delivering the first 777Xs, with new composite wings and engines, before 2020. It's already picked GE Aviation to supply the engines. (Story)

Federal contract towers at Stennis International Airport in Kiln, Miss., Hawkins Field in
Jackson, Miss., and Dothan, Ala., are among 149 that will close beginning April 7 as part of a sequestration plan.

But the Federal Aviation Administration has decided to keep open 24 towers that were previously proposed for closing because it would have a "negative impact on national interest." The 24 towers saved from the chopping block include towers at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala., Meridian, Miss., and Columbus/Starkville, Miss.

Another 16 federal contract towers under the "cost share" program will remain open because Congressional statute sets aside funds every fiscal year for these towers. These cost-share program funds are subject to sequestration but the required 5 percent cut will not result in tower closures. (Post)

-- Miracle Strip Aviation, one of two fixed-base operators at Florida's Destin Airport, agreed to a plan that would settle its $485,000 debt with the county by 2019. Under the plan, Miracle Strip Aviation, recently purchased by Mississippi-based Regal Capital, would pay the county $150,000 upfront, make $100,000 in major renovations to the county-owned terminal at Destin Airport and repay the remaining $235,382 at 4 percent interest over six years. Miracle Strip Aviation amassed the $485,382 debt because of an error in the county’s billing system. The company was billed for an amount lower than the actual lease payment. (Post)

-- Bob Sikes Airport's fixed-base operator anticipates breaking ground on a $600,000 terminal in Crestview, Fla., by April. Emerald Coast Aviation recently sent the project out to bid. The terminal will replace a small facility that Emerald Coast Aviation and Sunshine Aero, its predecessor, have used for decades. The 5,600-square-foot, single-story building will house a reception area, offices, a lounge with a fireplace, a pilots' "snooze room" with shower, a conference room and an outdoor enclosed courtyard overlooking the airport. (Post)

The Air Force Reserve Command decided that 10 C-130Js from Keesler Air Force Base will transfer to Pope Field, N.C., and the 815th Airlift Squadron will shut down. A press release from Keesler said the base will lose the aircraft in October. The 815th "Flying Jennies," a tactical airlift unit that has been at Keesler since 1973, is responsible for delivering cargo to combat zones and provides humanitarian relief in disaster areas. (Post)

-- The Blue Angels are back at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., after wintering in El Centro, Calif. There remains a lot of uncertainty over the Blue Angels shows this season. The Navy has canceled four show in April. The sequestration cuts for the Navy requires cancelation of all appearances through the end of the federal fiscal year. This includes the July Pensacola Air Show. (Post)

-- A report released by a ground accident investigation board shows an Air Force officer was struck and killed by a government-contracted boat in October while participating in a one-man life raft training exercise near Pensacola, Fla. Maj. Garrett Knowlan was killed when he was struck by a 41-foot tow boat involved in the Air Force Water Survival Training Course. Knowlan was executive officer for the commander of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

-- Brig. Gen. Jack L. Briggs II, deputy commander, Canadian North American Aerospace
Defense Region, and deputy commander for Operations, 1st Air Division, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, to vice commander, 1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern), Air Combat Command, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

Lockheed Martin named Lorraine Martin its new leader for the F-35 program. Martin, 50, replaces her former boss, Orlando Carvalho, 54, who becomes executive vice president in charge of the aeronautics business. From 2004-08, Martin was VP of flight solutions, simulation and support for aircrew training programs for the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field in Northwest Florida. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

EDO Corp., Panama City, Fla., was awarded an $11 million contract to build one MK-105 Mod 4 Magnetic Minesweeping System for the Airborne Mine Countermeasures Program. Work will be done in Panama City. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity. … H2 Performance Consulting of Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a five-year, $4 million contract to provide the Navy Manpower Personnel Training and Education with support for its Authoritative Data Environment.

Ingalls: Huntington Ingalls Industries plans to hire about 3,000 people for its Pascagoula, Miss., facility over the next 12 months to fulfill existing ship orders. A job fair was held late in the week in Prichard, Ala., to help fill those positions. (Post)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Week in review (3/10 to 3/16)

Before we get to the week in review, here's a good marketing fact for the Gulf Coast region: We're home to the third fastest growing and 21st fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation. That's according to figures released during the week.

The third fastest-growing metropolitan area in the nation is Florida's Crestview-Fort Walton-Destin, and the 21st fastest growing is Alabama's Daphne-Fairhope-Foley. But those are just the two best performers. Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent is 78th fastest growing, Panama City is 91st and New Orleans-Metairie is 95th fastest growing among the nation's 381 metropolitan areas.

If you track this sort of thing, you'll also want to be aware that the federal government has redefined what counties make up the nation’s metropolitan areas. The latest shuffling made some changes in the Gulf Coast region.

In Northwest Florida, the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin metropolitan area is no longer one county, but two. It now includes, in addition to all of Okaloosa County, all of Walton County. It had a population of 239,021 in July 2011. That grew to 247,665 by July 2012 for an increase of 3.6 percent.

Further east, the Panama City metropolitan area also expanded from one county to two. In addition to all of Bay County, it now includes all of Gulf County. It had a population of 185,500 in July 2011, which grew to 187,621 a year later.

Another big change was in Alabama, where the one-county Daphne-Fairhope-Foley micropolitan area become a full-fledged metropolitan area. The population went from 186,830 to 190,790 between July 2011 and July 2012.

Further to the west in Mississippi, the three coastal counties of Jackson, Harrison and Hancock are now the single Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula metropolitan area, with a population of 379,582, up from 375,911. Prior to the new definitions, South Mississippi was split into two metropolitan areas, and included two rural counties to the north.

Larry Sassano, interim director of Florida's Great Northwest, told the Northwest Florida Daily News while discussing the third-place ranking for Crestview-Fort Walton-Destin that it's always good for marketing an area to show the population is growing. A factor for companies considering relocating is an expanding workforce.

That's a very good point. And pointing out how the Gulf Coast region has multiple metropolitan areas that rank high nationally in growth puts it all in context.

Now here's your week in review:

Some officials from Mobile, Ala., are on a four-day trip to Hamburg, Germany, to tour an Airbus final assembly plant for the A320 jet airliner. The trip includes two days, Monday and Tuesday, in which officials will tour the German plant considered as a comparable facility to the $600 million A320 plant that will be built at Brookley Aeroplex. The group in Germany includes the mayor, city attorney, four city council members, three county commissioners and representatives of the Mobile Airport Authority.

Groundbreaking for the Mobile assembly line is scheduled for April 8. The Mobile facility is expected to employ 1,000 and generate several thousand construction, supplier and support positions. (Post)

The Mobile folks are visiting the German plant in the wake of very good news for Airbus. During the week two airlines put in orders for 184 Airbus aircraft within two days. Lufthansa will buy 100 A320s and two A380s worth about $11.2 billion at list price, according to Airbus. In addition, Turkish Airlines is buying 82 A320 family aircraft. The order is worth about $9.3 billion, based on the current list price. (Post)

-- Trade & Industry Development named the Airbus assembly plant project in Mobile among its top 15 corporate advancement award winners for 2013. The magazine selected the Airbus project as one of only 30 Corporate Investment and Community Impact winners nationwide for the transformational effect it’s expected to have on the city of Mobile. Several hundred projects announced during 2012 were considered. (Post)

The Navy during the week awarded Northrop Grumman a $71.6 million contract to build six additional MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopters. Those are the Fire Scouts that use the Bell 407 airframe. It's a larger, more capable version of the battle-tested MQ-8B variant.

The contract is a modification to a previously awarded contract and includes seven ground control stations. The Navy plans to purchase 30 aircraft under a rapid development effort. Northrop Grumman is currently under contract to produce 14 Fire Scouts that are scheduled to begin deploying in 2014.

Airframe modifications are being made at Bell's facility in Ozark, Ala., and accounts for 27 percent of the work. Final assembly is done at the Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., accounting for 15 percent of the work. Most of the work, 32 percent, is being done in Dallas, Texas. Other work sites include Rancho Bernardo and Point Mugu, both in Calif. (Post).

-- A new study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) finds that more than 70,000 new American jobs will be created in the first three years following integration of unmanned systems into the national airspace.

For the four states with a piece of the Gulf Coast Interstate 10 aerospace corridor, it will mean a combined 6,690 jobs and economic impact of $1.3 billion by 2017. That breaks down to 3,251 jobs and an economic impact of $632 million in Florida; 1,510 jobs and an economic impact of $294 million in Alabama; 1,097 jobs and an economic impact of $213 million in Louisiana; and 832 jobs and an economic impact of $162 million in Mississippi. (Post)

Northrop Grumman did deliver to Lockheed Martin the 500th AN/AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System (DAS) sensor component for the F-35. The DAS is a multifunction infrared system that provides passive, spherical battlespace awareness for F-35 pilots by simultaneously detecting and tracking aircraft and missiles in every direction, as well as providing visual imagery for day/night navigation and targeting purposes.

DAS imagery projected onto the pilot's helmet mounted display provides the capability to look at targets and terrain through the floor and wings of the aircraft. The DAS works in conjunction with the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-81 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and other onboard systems to give pilots an unprecedented degree of situational awareness. (News release)

Residents in the local area may experience low-flying aircraft or noise when the 96th Operations Group conducts boat operations Monday through Friday in the Gulf of Mexico south of Destin in the morning and the Choctawhatchee Bay in the afternoon.

The operations are part of the 53rd Wing’s Weapon System Evaluation Program. Fighter aircraft will release various munitions in the Gulf of Mexico during the morning test missions about 20 nautical miles south of Destin.

In the Choctawhatchee Bay during the afternoon test missions, about 30 boats will operate as visual simulated targets for fighter aircraft. Aircraft will conduct low altitude operations and residents in the local area may experience low-flying aircraft or noise. No bombs or munitions will be released during these Choctawhatchee Bay test operations. (Post)

-- Brig. Gen. Timothy J. Leahy, selected for the rank of major general, commander, 23rd Air Force and director, operations, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Fla., to director, operations, J-3, Headquarters U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Also, Brig. Gen. John M. Hicks, director, command, control, communications and cyber, J-6, Headquarters U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, to commander, 23rd Air Force and director, operations, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field. (Post)

Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin said during the week that it will build two liquefied natural gas tanks at the Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans. Each 88-foot-long tank, designed to carry 295,000 cubic meters of liquid gas, will serve as fuel tanks for propulsion engines built by the Finnish company Wartsila. Those engines are built to power commercial transport ships.

The two companies are discussing contracts to build another six tanks of various sizes at MAF that could serve as storage tanks to transport gas overseas. MAF is also used by the British company Blade Dynamics to build wind turbine blades, and more recently, Sierra Nevada Corp. said it had partnered with Lockheed Martin to build structures for the Dream Chaser commercial space vehicle. MAF is also where Orion and the core stage of the Space Launch System are being built. (Post)

Lockheed Martin also is taking the plunge into deep sea mining in a deal that will see the company begin exploring for minerals, including rare-earth varieties, in the Pacific. UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of the British arm of Lockheed Martin, said Thursday that it has obtained a license to prospect for high-value minerals in a 58,000-square-kilometer area of the Pacific between Hawaii and Mexico.

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport Executive Director John Wheat resigned to take a new position as the director of the Sacramento County (Calif.) Airport System, where he will oversee one international airport and three reliever airports. Wheat was recruited by officials in the Sacramento County Airport System, which boasts a passenger traffic count of about 9 million per year with 14 airlines. His resignation is effective April 5 and he is expected to begin his new job April 14. (Post)

-- Criminal charges against Vision Airlines have been dropped. State Attorney Bill Eddins said during the week that his office had dropped the first-degree grand theft charge against the airline after it paid more than $160,000 in fines and fees to Okaloosa County in the past month. The state attorney’s office filed the grand theft charge after the county tried unsuccessfully for months to get Vision to pay $117,660 in unpaid passenger facility charges owed to Northwest Florida Regional Airport. Vision paid more than $43,000 in legal fees and other charges Monday. (Post)

Science-minded middle school students in Okaloosa County now have a jet engine to use as a learning tool. Airmen from Eglin Air Force Base delivered the engine Friday to the Okaloosa County STEMM Center, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, math and medical studies. It will be used to demonstrate a variety of principals. The STEMM Center plans to invite teachers from across the Panhandle to use the engine in their own programs. The F100 engine is on loan from the U.S. Air Force Recruiting Service at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $105.9 million contract for contractor logistics support, legacy sustainment and combined task force support for the Space Based Infrared Systems. Work on the core propulsion system of the SBIRS is done by Lockheed Martin at Stennis Space Center, Miss. … Boeing of St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $99.9 million contract for production assets, spares, repairs and sustainment for the joint direct attack munitions system. The contracting activity is AFLCMC/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. … Enola Contracting Services, Chipley, Fla., was awarded a $20 million contract for maintenance and repair services at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. … Speegle Construction Inc., Niceville, Fla., was awarded a $12.4 million contract to provide for the construction of a squadron operations facility at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. … Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Linthicum Heights, Md., is being awarded a $30 million contract for contractor logistics support services in support of the AN/ASQ-236 aircraft pod. The contracting activity is AFLCMC/EBSK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Austal USA: Austal USA LLC., Mobile, Ala., was awarded a $19.9 million modification to previously awarded contract to exercise options for class service efforts and special studies, analyses and reviews for the Littoral Combat Ship program. Most of the4 work will be done in Mobile. (Post)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Week in review (3/3 to 3/9)

It may have escaped the attention of folks who follow activities in the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor, but late last month the Air Force awarded a contract for 20 light attack planes to the team of Embraer and Sierra Nevada. Beechcraft vowed to protest, as it did the first time the Embraer-Sierra Nevada team won in 2011.

The $428 million deal will provide the A-29 Super Tucano aircraft, which will be built in Jacksonville, Fla., for counterinsurgency missions in Afghanistan. It's likely to open new business opportunities in the United States for Brazil's Embraer, while for Beechcraft, which emerged from a Chapter 11 restructuring, the loss is a setback on the road to recovery. Beechcraft, of Wichita, Kan., said on Friday that it plans to protest the award.

The arguments are reminiscent of the Air Force tanker project, which pit Boeing against EADS, parent of Airbus. Boeing and its supporters said American jobs would be lost if the contract went to EADS. The same arguments are made by Beechcraft and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The IAM on Friday cited the threat to 1,400 American jobs in its call for a reversal of the decision.

Sierra Nevada and Embraer issued a joint statement pointing out the "in-sourcing" of jobs to Jacksonville. The statement said the award will support more than 1,400 American jobs. More than 100 U.S. companies will supply parts and services for the A-29 Super Tucano, and new jobs will be created. Embraer will create new high-tech jobs in Jacksonville, adding to the 1,200 people Embraer currently employs in the United States. Sierra Nevada will also add to its U.S. workforce of 2,500 people.

I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of Beechcraft. But it's becoming clear, to me at least, that this region is becoming a real hot spot for foreign companies that want to enter the U.S. marketplace. Europe’s Airbus and Safran committed to set up shop in the region last year, and before that it was China’s AVIC buying Teledyne Continental. Now there's Embraer, in the extreme east of the Interstate 10 corridor.

By the way, regular followers of my column know I like to make connections. Here's one for you: Sierra Nevada, of Sparks, Nev., and Lockheed Martin early last month inked a deal where Lockheed will assemble the composite structure of the first space-bound Dream Chaser at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Sierra Nevada is developing Dream Chaser under NASA's commercial crew program, vying to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. Dream Chaser will be launched atop an Atlas V.

It would be a rare week indeed if there wasn't something new to report about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Eglin Air Force Base in Northwest Florida is home of the F-35 training center, and you can bet anything about the F-35 is followed closely by those folks.

So here's the latest.

A February report from the Defense Department’s Operational Test and Evaluation department raises issues about the survivability of the F-35 in a dogfight. The issues came up during training at Eglin, including a lack of "aft visibility" and in general less out of cockpit visibility than in other Air Force fighter aircraft.

The 68-page report was posted on the Project on Government Oversight website. The Air Force did its own Operational Utility Evaluation last year. The high-tech helmet mounted display was also criticized for some technical problems. (Post)

Despite that, delivery of the aircraft continues. The second F-35 for the Netherlands rolled out of the F-35 production facility on March 2. It will be assigned to Eglin later this summer. The Netherlands is planning to use this conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) jet, known as AN-2, for training and operational tests for pilots and maintainers. AN-2 will undergo functional fuel system checks before being transported to the flight line for ground and flight tests later this year. (Post)

Production is also continuing. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded during the week a not-to-exceed $72.2 million modification to the previously awarded Low Rate Initial Production Lot 6 advance acquisition contract. The modification provides for the procurement of support equipment at Pilot Training Center 1, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., for the F-35 CTOL program.

The modification also provides for the associated Data Quality Integration Management supplier support tasks, and all other sustainment data products for the U.S. Air Force and the governments of Italy and Australia. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas (35 percent); El Segundo, Calif. (25 percent); Warton, United Kingdom (20 percent); Orlando, Fla. (10 percent); Nashua, N.H. (5 percent); and Baltimore, Md. (5 percent). The contract combines purchases for the U.S. Air Force (76.2 percent); and the governments of Italy (14.3 percent); and Australia (9.5 percent). (Post)

Northrop Grumman late last month completed a successful exchange of radar data during a flight test involving the U.S. Air Force's E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) and the RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 40 unmanned aircraft system.

The Feb. 25 exchange is the first collaborative effort to stream ground moving target radar data from a Global Hawk Block 40 to a Joint STARS aircraft. Information can then be relayed from Joint STARS to ground forces. The flight successfully demonstrated the interoperability of both platforms to potentially improve and expand surveillance capabilities for deployed forces. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

-- Speaking of Northrop Grumman, the company designated five centers of design and integration excellence in a reorganization of the Aerospace Systems sector's manned aircraft, unmanned systems and electronic attack businesses. Changes include closing an Information Systems sector facility in Dominguez Hills, Calif. The five centers are at Melbourne and St. Augustine, Fla., San Diego and Palmdale, Calif., and Bethpage, N.Y. Current integration activities in Moss Point, Miss., and New Town, N.D., are not included in this transition. (Post)

Two squadrons at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., are moving across town, so to speak, to Hurlburt Field. About 400 people with the 9th Special Operations Squadron and the 1st Special Operations Maintenance Squadron are moving this spring and taking their fleet of MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft with them.

The move will unite all 1st Special Operations Wing squadrons at Hurlburt, home of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations. It also will allow for more efficient aircraft maintenance because the newcomers will be able to work closely with squadrons maintaining very similar planes at Hurlburt. (Post)

-- The air traffic control tower at Stennis International Airport in Kiln, near NASA's Stennis Space Center, is among seven in Mississippi set to be closed in April as the Federal Aviation Administration moves to reduce spending by $600 million under automatic federal budget cuts.

The FAA said it will consider keeping some towers open on a case-by-case basis, and officials from the airport have already said they plan to take steps to try to keep the tower open.

Stennis International serves NASA's Stennis Space Center, and among other things is the airport Rolls-Royce uses to receive and ship out engines that it tests at SSC. (Post)

-- New Orleans' airport surpassed 8.6 million passengers in 2012, a post-Katrina record that maintains an upward trend even as similar airports across the nation experienced a slight decline, according to airport figures. But the good year at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International still fell short of its passenger totals before the 2005 hurricane. (Post)

Blue Angels air shows in April were canceled due to Pentagon belt-tightening, and what beyond that will still be canceled is unclear at this point. But only one of the Blue Angels’ five scheduled practices in Pensacola, Fla., during March is still definite. The Navy is still trying to determine the amount of flight training the team will be able to do when they return from El Centro, Calif. (Post)

-- The civilian furloughs have been announced, but more impacts from the $45 billion in sequestration cuts to the Department of Defense could soon hit Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. That’s according to Brig. Gen. David Harris, commander of the 96th Test Wing. He was guest speaker at Wednesday’s lunch meeting of the Rotary Club of Fort Walton Beach. (Post)

About two and a half years after voting to contract with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide to provide high school students opportunities to explore math and science through aviation, the Okaloosa County School Board has opted to go into contract negotiations with the university’s main campus in Daytona rather than the satellite campus. The concern is declining enrollment. (Post)

It's cutting edge and designed to replace multiple other simulator systems in military aircraft. A while back the Naval Air Systems Command awarded NVision Solutions Inc. of Bay St. Louis, Miss., a $35 million indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract to design, build, test, and manufacture the Handheld Radar Simulator (HRS).

The company has been working the project for seven months now. HRS will replace multiple systems used to test electronic counter measures in military aircraft. NVision is designing, prototyping and later will manufacture this next-generation system through an agreement with partners Loglinear LLC and Applied Geo Technologies, also of Mississippi. NVision is headquartered near NASA’s Stennis Space Center and is a member of the EIGS geospatial technology cluster of the Magnolia Business Alliance. (Post)

Textron Marine & Land Systems, New Orleans, La., was awarded a $113.4 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide for the procurement of Mobile Strike Force vehicles to support the Afghanistan National Security Forces. Work will be performed in New Orleans, with an estimated completion date of Feb. 28, 2014. (Post)

UUV: Hydroid Inc. of Pocasset, Mass., has begun full-rate production the Navy Littoral Battlespace Sensing (LBS) Unmanned Underwater Vehicle. The end user of the UUVs will be the Naval Oceanographic Office at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., which acquires and analyzes open oceans, coastal waters, and harbors data. (Post)

LPD: Ingalls Shipbuilding's amphibious transport dock Arlington left the Pascagoula, Miss., yard Friday morning, headed toward Norfolk for an April 6 commissioning. It’s the 8th in the LPD 17-class to be built by the company. (Post)

BAE Systems: BAE Systems Southeast Shipyard Alabama LLC held a keel-laying ceremony during the week for the second of two dump scows being built for Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. (Post)

Bath Iron Works: Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, was awarded a $12.2 million modification to previously awarded contract to exercise an option for post-delivery support for the USS Coronado (LCS 4). Seventy-six percent of the work will be performed in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Austal USA: Austal USA, Mobile, Ala., was provided $681.7 million in funding under previously awarded contract for construction of two fiscal 2013 Littoral Combat Ships. Work is expected to be complete by June 2018. (Post)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Week in review (2/24 to 3/2)

Before we get to the week in review, just a quick sidebar. It's likely that people who read this column or subscribe to the daily Gulf Coast Aerospace News are also interested in aerospace activities in other "neighborhoods" of the Southeast. So we got to thinking.

Last summer an associate began tracking aerospace and defense news from Alabama's Huntsville-Decatur region. Like the Gulf Coast feed, Huntsville Region Aerospace and Defense monitors a host of sources to present a daily summary of activities.

A Huntsville feed made sense. It's home to the NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, and what happens there is of high interest to Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. It's also home to the Army's Aviation and Missile Command and hundreds of companies, many with operations in the Gulf Coast.

Huntsville Region Aerospace and Defense covers a range of topics, including DoD and NASA contracts. It's available free through a reader, at the blog or through daily e-mail updates to your inbox. Give it a try by clicking here.

Now for the week in review:

The Pentagon said on Thursday it would resume flights of its F-35 following a week-long
precautionary grounding imposed after a crack was found on an engine blade on a test
plane in California.

No additional cracks were found during inspections of engines on the remaining 50 planes in the Pentagon's fleet, or any spare engines. The conclusion was the crack was caused from overuse in test operations.

It was the program's second engine-related flight ban in less than two months. The Marines Corps version of the plane was grounded for a month from mid-January because of a faulty hose in the engine, later blamed on manufacturing errors.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $333.8 million advance acquisition contract to provide long lead-time parts, materials and components required for the delivery of the 35 Low Rate Initial Production lot VIII F-35 aircraft.

That includes 19 conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft for the U.S. Air Force; six short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps; four Carrier Variant aircraft for the U.S. Navy; four STOVL for the United Kingdom; and two CTOL aircraft for the government of Norway.

This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Air Force (46 percent); the U.S. Marine Corps (26 percent); and the U.S. Navy (8 percent); the United Kingdom (14 percent); and Norway (6 percent). The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting authority. (Post)

Airbus met with potential suppliers at a gathering Wednesday in Mobile, Ala., where the company will build a $600 million A320 assembly line. David Williams, vice president of procurement for Airbus Americas, told a crowd of nearly 1,000 gathered for the supplier briefing that the Mobile facility will help the company with its globalization strategy by bringing production directly to one of its strongest markets.

Williams said the procurement process for the Mobile facility is "moving along quickly, as it should be," but a strict protocol must be followed to be considered. Interested suppliers should visit the Airbus Alabama website, send a "request for information" where prompted and any company that takes those steps is included in a broad database. (Post)

Military cuts
Politico reports that the Defense Department plans to ask Congress for two new military base closure rounds, one in 2015 and the other in 2017. The Pentagon made the same request last year, but it went nowhere. Only Congress can authorize a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.

Critics say closing bases does not produce immediate savings and costs more upfront. The 2005 BRAC was not completed until the fall of 2011. For example, the Naval Medical Research Laboratory at Naval Air Station Pensacola was realigned in the 2005 BRAC, and only last year was it moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (Post)

The White House last weekend released state-by-state reports on the impact it says the sequester would have. Congress failed to act by Friday, and President Barack Obama signed an order authorizing the government to begin cutting $85 billion from federal accounts across the board.

The government says the reductions will result in furlough notices to government employees and will trim government spending on defense contracts and in domestic government programs.

The state-by-state report released last weekend showed the impact on military readiness in the four states with a piece of the I-10 aerospace corridor would be 74,000 civilian Defense Department employees furloughed in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, reducing gross pay by around $445.9 million in the four states. The total cut in funding for the military operations in all four states is $336.8 million. (Post)

NASA commercial partner Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., successfully conducted an engine test of its Antares rocket late last week at the nation's newest launch pad on Wallops Island, Va.

The company fired dual AJ26 rocket engines for the full duration 29 seconds while the rocket was bolted down on the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) Pad-0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.

Known as a "hot fire" test, it demonstrated the readiness of the rocket's first stage and launch pad fueling systems to support upcoming test flights. Aerojet tests AJ26 engines at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

The U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft program was recently awarded the 2012 Dr. James G. Roche Sustainment Excellence Award for the most improved performance in aircraft maintenance and logistics readiness.

Capable of flying for more than 30 hours at an altitude over 60,000 feet, Global Hawk provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and communications relay capabilities.

It's accumulating more than 88,000 total flight hours, 80 percent in combat. A total of 37 Global Hawks have been delivered to the Air Force, with additional aircraft scheduled for delivery this year. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

Coast Guard
A memorial to the four crewmembers of a Coast Guard MH-65C helicopter that crashed last year in Mobile Bay was dedicated Friday at the U.S. Coast Guard's Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala.

Hundreds turned out for the private ceremony honoring the crew of CG-6535, which crashed after a training mission. Honored were pilot Lt. Cmdr. Dale Taylor, co-pilot Lt. j.g. Thomas Cameron, rescue swimmer Chief Petty Officer Fernando Jorge, and flight mechanic Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew "Drew" Knight. (Post)

L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded an $8 million contract modification for aircraft flightline maintenance for the F-16 aircraft in support of Taiwan's F-16 program.