Saturday, May 18, 2013

Week in review (5/12 to 5/18)

X-47B marks historic firsts. Navy photo
It's hard to overstate the significance of what occurred in the Atlantic Ocean during the past week. An unmanned, fixed-wing aircraft bult by Northrop Grumman was catapulted from the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush, and later in the week the robot aircraft did touch and go landings.

The technology for all of that is mind-boggling. Ship relative navigation and precision touchdown of the X-47B are critical technology elements for all future unmanned carrier aviation aircraft. It's yet another attempt to have robots master skills that are difficult enough for humans to master.

The launch from CVN 77 was Tuesday, while the carrier was off the coast of Maryland. The UAV safely landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., after a 65-minute flight. The UCAS-D program plans to conducted shore-based arrested landings of the X-47B at NAS Patuxent River in the coming months before final carrier-baswed arrestments later this year.

A lot of eyes in this region have been watching this, and for good reason. This is where all the naval aviators get their initial training, and you know those students are keeping their eyes on developments in this field. The men and women learning to be Navy and Marine pilots will one day be working side-by-side with these drones, perhaps leading a formation of them. This is also where Northrop Grumman does some of the work on two other UAVs - the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter and the Global Hawk fixed-wing surveillance UAV.

In fact, the Fire Scout is a veteran at working off a ship. The surveillance helicopter has been taking off and returning to Navy ships for a few years now. That program has been successful enough that Northrop is building a larger, more capable variant of the Fire Scout. In fact, Fire Scouts are now part of a new hybrid squadron the Navy introduced earlier this month.

-- Germany's defense ministry plans to abandon the $1.3 billion Euro Hawk reconnaissance program. Flight clearance issues in European airspace were key factors, according to reports.

One Euro Hawk demonstrator, a variant of the unmanned Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawk, has already been purchased. But plans to buy three more will now be canceled, officials said. (Post)

While Germany is retreating from its UAV purchase, Australia is again considering buying a variant of the Global Hawk called Triton, a long-range maritime surveillance drone. Australia could buy six or seven Triton MQ-4C aircraft. The United States plans to buy 68.(Post)

While drones were marking some firsts in the Atlantic, piloted F-35 marked their own first over Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in the Gulf Coast region. Air Force F-35 instructor pilots at the Integrated Training Center began qualifying during the week in aerial refueling. An Air Force Reserve KC-135 Stratotanker provided the fuel to formations of the F-35A aircraft over the Eglin training ranges. (Post)

We're not quite done with "firsts." For the first time in almost a decade, a full engine is in the A-1 test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

The J-2X engine E10002 will undergo a series of tests where it will be gimbaled, or pivoted, during test firings. That's important, because when this engine is used in space it will need to be able to move to steer NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), the heavy-lift launch vehicle that will carry humans in deep space.

It's the first time gimbal tests will be done since testing on the space shuttle main engines.

Once these tests are done, preparations will be made to begin testing the RS-25 engine on the A-1 stand in 2014. RS-25 engines from the shuttle inventory will power the core stage of SLS, while the J-2X engine will power the upper stage. (Post)

-- Another part of the SLS program is also moving forward. Engineers at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., are putting NASA's first space-bound Orion capsule through tests to stress the capsule's structural shell and check repairs to cracks in the pressurized module's aluminum bulkhead.

The static loads testing began May 3 and will run through June inside the Operations and Checkout Building at KSC. The aluminum alloy core of the Orion was built at Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans. The 16.5-foot-diameter spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., was delivered to KSC in June 2012.

Engineers put the capsule through its first test at KSC in November, when they pressurized the Orion crew module to check its integrity. That's when three cracks developed in the aft bulkhead on the lower half of the Orion's pressure shell. Engineers designed structural braces to resolve the problem, and those repairs are being tested now. (Post)

Kuwait Airways will buy 25 Airbus jets and aims to lease a further 13 to upgrade its fleet. The deal is for 10 wide-bodied A350-900 jets and 15 of the A320neo. The deal is worth some $3.1 billion. Deliveries would start in 2019. Airbus broke ground last month in Mobile, Ala., on an A320 final assembly line at Brookley Aeroplex. (Post)

-- Speaking of Airbus, the newly chosen executive director of the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council thinks that county can attract Airbus subcontractors. Nathan Sparks, formerly with St. Joe Company, was hired replace Kay Rasumssen, vice president of the EDC who served as the interim president after Larry Sassano left and joined Florida's Great Northwest. Sparks plans to meet early on with stakeholders to get a sense of their expectations, and to do some vision planning to develop long-term strategies. (Story)

The Air Force was just three years old when this squadron was formed, and now it's gone. The 728th Air Control Squadron, activated in 1950 at Turner Air Force Base in Albany, Ga., was inactivated Friday at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., as part of budget cuts in the Department of Defense. The 728th moved to Duke Field in 1977 then Eglin in 1994. (Post)

-- The Army 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., opened its doors during the week to show the public what they do. About 2,000 people showed up at the cantonment south of Crestview. Visitors Day featured about 15 displays for the public to inspect the weapons, vehicles and technologies soldiers use and to let them explain their day-to-day duties. (Post)

-- The New Orleans Aviation Board, which governs Louis Armstrong International Airport, picked New Orleans lawyer Cheryl Teamer to be its first female chairperson. She'll oversee the launch of an $826 million overhaul the airfield that Mayor Mitch Landrieu has dictated must be done in five years. (Post)

Northrop Grumman was awarded a $555.6 million contract for Global Hawk modernization. Work will be performed in San Diego, and is expected to be completed by May 14, 2015. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. … Jacobs Technology was awarded an $8.5 million contract for interim support of services to provide engineering and technology acquisition support services. One of the locations where work will be done is Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Cutter: Ingalls Shipbuilding during the week authenticated the keel of the company's fifth U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter, James (WMSL 754). Ingalls in Pascagoula, Miss., has delivered three National Security Cutters. The fourth one will be christened in October. (Post)

DDG 51: Huntington Ingalls of Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $8.9 million modification to previously awarded contract to exercise options for DDG 51 class follow yard services. Nearly all the work will be done in Pascagoula. (Post)

Dry dock: A floating dry dock arrived at VT Halter Marine's Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard from the Philippines as part of the company's multimillion-dollar south yard expansion. (Post)

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