It was a busy week for aerospace news of interest to the Gulf Coast region. Headlines included GE Aviation opening plants in Mississippi and Alabama; Vector Aerospace announcing an expansion in Andalusia, Ala.; a magazine listing the Airbus project in Mobile, Ala., as one of the top 10 deals for 2012; the Navy launching its first squadron combining manned and unmanned helicopters; an OK for plans to sell four Global Hawks to South Korea; and a NASA executive’s visit to Michoud and Stennis.
Here's the week in review:
GE Aviation had two grand openings during the week, both just outside the Interstate 10 region but significant to the region nonetheless.
GE Aviation officially opened on Monday a new jet engine components facility in Auburn, Ala., that will create hundreds of jobs at the Auburn Technology Park West. The 300,000-square-foot advanced manufacturing plant will produce precision, super-alloy machined parts for GE jet engines that will power future commercial and military aircraft, and also support the fleet of GE jet engines already in service.
The plant represents a GE investment of $75 million in the state of Alabama. By the end of 2013, GE expects to hire 50 employees. Based on current demand for its jet engines, GE expects to hire 300 to 400 people when the plant is at full ramp-up later this decade.
The Auburn plant will make high-pressure turbine airfoils, delivering its first part later this year. As the facility continues to ramp up production, it is expected that the Auburn facility will contribute to every commercial jet engine family produced by GE Aviation.
The next day the company opened a 340,000-square-foot aviation components plant in Ellisville, northeast of Hattiesburg, Miss. The plant at the Howard Technology Park is the second composites factory in Mississippi. The other is in Batesville in northwest Mississippi, which employs 450 workers and opened in 2008.
In Ellisville the company expects to hire 250 workers within five years to make composite parts for aircraft engines and systems. The new Ellisville Composites facility will make and assemble new composite components that are unique in the aviation industry. The new facilities underscore the growth of GE Aviation, where production rates are expected to grow from 3,600 commercial and military engine deliveries in 2013 to more than 3,800 deliveries in 2014. (Post)
- In another major aerospace development in Alabama, Vector Aerospace announced a $3 million expansion of its Andalusia operation, creating as many as 75 jobs. The company, which opened in Andalusia in 2008, maintains Army TH-67 helicopters from Fort Rucker near Dothan and repairs Navy TH-57 helicopters from Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla. Toronto-based Vector was purchased in March 2011 by Eurocopter, a subsidiary of Airbus parent EADS. American Eurocopter builds Lakota helicopters in Columbus, Miss. (Post)
Site Selection magazine named the Airbus final assembly line being built at Mobile's Brookley Aeroplex among its top 10 U.S. deals for 2012. Top deals were selected based upon the level of capital investment, degree of high-value jobs, creativity in negotiations and incentives, regional economic impact, competition for the project and speed to market. Meanwhile, the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce is listed by Site Selection as among its "Best to Invest" U.S. economic development groups for 2012. (Post)
- Nepal Airlines signed a deal with Airbus to buy two A320 aircraft equipped with sharklet fuel-saving wing tips. The deal is valued at $183 million at catalogue prices. Nepal Airlines currently flies to four international destinations and 25 domestic airports in he heart of the Himalayas. (Post)
The Navy has its first squadron combining manned and unmanned helicopters. Helicopter Maritime Strike 35, "the Magicians," combines eight manned MH-60R Seahawks with 10 unmanned MQ-8B Fire Scouts and will work off coastal combat ships.
The first deployment of two Fire Scouts and one Seahawk will be early next year on the littoral combat ship Fort Worth, a Freedom-class LCS. The Navy has been testing the Fire Scout since 2007 and deploying it since 2009. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.; Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., builds the Independence –class version of the littoral combat ships. (Post)
- The United States approved the sale of four Global Hawks to South Korea, Seoul's acquisition agency said. But the purchase may be reconsidered due to the cost. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration said it has received the letter of offer and acceptance for Global Hawks made by Northrop Grumman from the Pentagon in mid-April after it won congressional approval. Global Hawks are made in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)
Deputy Administrator Lori Garver visited NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans Friday. Both facilities are critical to the construction and testing of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Commercial Crew Program. Michoud and Stennis also are important to partnerships with private industry, which is helping maximize the use of NASA facilities.
Garver first visited Michoud to see progress being made to support the SLS and Orion spacecraft programs, then SSC to tour facilities where commercial engines and engines for the NASA program are tested. One key test facility she visited was the B-2 test stand, which is being restored in preparation for testing of the SLS core stage. (Post)
The B-2 Test Stand, originally built to test the Saturn rocket stages that propelled humans to the Moon, will test the SLS core stage in late 2016 and early 2017. When ready, the SLS stage, with four RS-25 rocket engines, will be installed on the stand for propellant fill and drain testing and two hot fire tests.
The site's engineers spent 18 months assessing the cost of the work needed to upgrade the B-2 Test Stand from Apollo-and space shuttle-era testing specifications. After NASA made the decision to proceed, engineers began the first of three project phases.
NASA is developing the SLS to send humans to asteroids and Mars. The SLS, once operational, will launch NASA's Orion spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first test flight of SLS will be in 2017, when the rocket will send an unmanned Orion spacecraft around the Moon. (Post)
- The Orion spacecraft safely landed during a simulation of two types of parachute failures during the week in Yuma, Ariz. The capsule was traveling about 250 mph when the parachutes were deployed.
Engineers rigged one of the test capsule's two drogue parachutes not to deploy and one of its three main parachutes to skip its first stage of inflation after being extracted from a plane 25,000 feet above the Arizona desert.
Orion's next Earth-based parachute test is scheduled for July, when the test capsule will be released from 35,000 feet. The first test of the parachutes after traveling in space will be during Exploration Flight Test-1 in 2014, when an uncrewed Orion will be return from 3,600 miles above Earth's surface. Orion is built at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (Post)
The head of Rolls-Royce's aerospace division resigned just four months after being promoted to lead the division that makes engines for commercial and military aircraft. Mark King, 48, will leave by the end of June. Rolls-Royce did not provide a reason for the departure.
King will be replaced by Tony Wood, head of the company's ship engine business. Aerospace is the biggest Rolls-Royce division, accounted for more than 70 percent of 2012 revenues. In December the company said it was cooperating with a probe by Britain's Serious Fraud Office into allegations of bribery in some of the company's Asian business operations. Rolls-Royce tests jetliner engines at its outdoor test facility at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)
- Lockheed Martin celebrated 50 years of space and defense work in Huntsville during the week. About 1,000 employees, retirees and dignitaries marked the event at the company's 57-acre, nine-building complex at Cummings Research Park. The company, one of the first tenants in the park, has about 800 employees. Lockheed Martin also has operations along the Gulf Coast, including the Mississippi Space and Technology Center at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)
Retired Air Force Col. Kim Wintner was named to head a tri-county committee that works to protect the military and defense industry in Northwest Florida. Wintner, of Destin, has served on the Defense Support Initiative committee for 10 years. The committee works to protect local military bases and their economic contributions to Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties. (Post)
- Col. James C. Slife, who has been selected for the rank of brigadier general, commander, 1st Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Fla., is being assigned as deputy director, Special Plans Working Group, Headquarters U.S. Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)
- The Air Force's wide-area surveillance sensor, Gorgon Stare, is performing with at least a 90 percent availability rate in Afghanistan and has been well-received by commanders in the field. More than two years ago a leaked Department of Defense report said the sensor, made by Sierra Nevada, received a poor operational assessment from testers at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)
Lockheed Martin was awarded a $20.1 million advance acquisition contract for long lead parts, materials and components required for the delivery for two low rate initial production Lot II F-35 conventional takeoff and landing aircraft for the government of Israel. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas, and is expected to be completed in May 2014. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. … ITT Exelis was awarded a more than $10 million contract to provide one MK 105 Mod 4 airborne minesweeping system for the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division in Panama City, Fla. The MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter tows the system. The work will be done in Panama City.
NSC: The U.S. Coast Guard awarded a $487 million contract to its Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Miss., to build the sixth National Security Cutter. (Post)
Contract: Concurrent Technologies Corp., Johnstown, Pa., was awarded an $8.4 million modification to previously awarded contract to provide additional engineering and fabrication services in support of the ongoing development and testing for the carriage, stream, tow and recovery system. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity. (Post)
Commissioning: The Navy commissioned the amphibious transport dock ship, Anchorage, in its namesake city in Alaska May 4 during a ceremony at the Port of Anchorage. The 24,900-ton Anchorage, LPD 23, was built by Huntington Ingalls Industries - Avondale Shipyard in Louisiana. (Post)
Christening: VT Halter Marine and Crowley Maritime celebrated a partnership with the christening of a tug and a barge. They were christened separately at a double ceremony at VT Halter's Bayou Casotte shipyard. (Post)
Ingalls: Huntington Ingalls Industries held a meeting with shareholders in Pascagoula, Miss., during the week. Thirty-two Huntington Ingalls Industries shareholders showed up. Ingalls has between 75,000 and 85,000 total shareholders, according to a company representative. (Post)
Award: Ingalls Shipbuilding received a Platinum Award in the American Heart Association's Fit-Friendly Worksite program for leadership in making the health and wellness of their employees a priority. (Post)