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)

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