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)

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