Saturday, July 27, 2013

Week in review (7/21 to 7/27)

The first F-35 built outside the United States takes shape in Italy; Airbus posts another job opening for its Mobile final assembly line; China's AVIC buys a German engine-maker; GE's purchase of the aeronautics unit of engine-maker Avio is approved; the Air Force sweetens the pot to retain pilots; and the end of an Air Force training program at a Navy base in Milton, Fla., were some of the aerospace stories of interest for the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Here's the week in review:

Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon are making progress in talks about the next two batches of F-35 fighter jets. That involves 36 planes to be purchased in the sixth production lot and 35 in the seventh. The number includes 60 F-35s for the U.S. military, and 11 for Australia, Italy, Turkey and Britain. Lockheed is building three models of the F-35 for the U.S. military and partners, Britain, Australia, Canada, Norway, Turkey, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands. Israel and Japan are also buying the jets. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center. (Post)

-- Assembly of the first F-35 built outside the United States is now underway in Italy west of Milan. The 22-building complex with more than a million square feet of covered space is jointly operated by Lockheed Martin and Alenia Aermacchi. The plant will build planes for the Italian air force and may eventually assemble planes for the Netherlands. It’s also committed to building wings. (Post)

According to AINonline, the rear fuselage for the first Italian-assembled F-35 was built by BAE Systems in Samlesbury, UK, the forward fuselage and wing by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, and the center fuselage by Northrop Grumman in Palmdale, Calif. The plant near Milan will put it all together at the final assembly line, much like workers in Mobile, Ala., will put together the A320 jetliners at Brookley Aeroplex.

-- Lockheed is looking toward the international community for sales to keep the F-35 program aloft in an age of sequestration. Over the next five years close to 50 percent of F-35 orders will come from international customers, according to Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson. In the pre-sequestration fiscal 2014 budget, the Pentagon plans to order more than 300 F-35s in all three variants in the next five years. (Post)

-- In Fort Worth, Texas, the 100th F-35, the first aircraft destined for Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz., has entered the last stage of final assembly. The conventional takeoff and landing aircraft, AF-41, is scheduled to arrive at the base next year. Luke will eventually have 144 aircraft and will be the largest F-35 base in the world. (Post)

Airbus Americas is looking for a quality conformance specialist for the A320 final assembly line being built at the Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala. The successful candidate will work with the company’s quality project team in Hamburg, Germany. The successful candidate will be responsible for designing how quality inspections will be performed at Airbus’ first U.S. assembly line. Airbus broke ground in April on the $600 million A320 assembly line, which will employ 1,000 people when it reaches full annual production. (Post)

-- American Airlines took delivery of its first A320 family aircraft at a ceremony at Airbus facilities in Hamburg, Germany. Representatives from American Airlines, Airbus and engine-maker CFM International were on hand. American’s A319s will seat 128 passengers and is the first A319 to feature sharklet wingtip devices that improve fuel efficiency. Sharklets will be standard on all A320neo family. (Post)

-- RAK Airways of the northern Gulf emirate of Ras Al Khaimah said it's in talks with Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier about an order for at least 10 single-aisle aircraft to meet expansion plans. RAK is looking at the Boeing 737-800, Airbus A320 and the CSeries jet from Bombardier, and hopes to make a choice by the end of the year. (Post)

Corporate changes
China's Aviation Industries Corp. (AVIC) is buying Germany's Thielert Aircraft Engines GmbH and shifting the supplier's focus from military drones to private aircraft. Bloomberg reports that AVIC International Holding Ltd. plans to leverage Thielert's civil propeller-engine operations to capitalize on an anticipated private aviation boom. AVIC purchased Mobile-based engine maker Continental Motors for $186 million in April 2011 and also bought Minnesota-based planemaker Cirrus Aircraft. (Post)

-- The Federal Trade Commission OKd General Electric's purchase of the aeronautics unit of engine-maker Avio SpA, Italy's manufacturer of aviation propulsion components and systems for civil and military aircraft. GE agreed not to interfere with the development of a key engine component for United Technologies Pratt and Whitney, an aircraft engine maker that competes with GE.

The FTC had been concerned the $4.3 billion acquisition of Avio's aviation business from Cinven, a private equity firm that has owned Avio since 2006, would be anticompetitive. GE and Pratt and Whitney are the sole firms that make engines for the Airbus A320neo. The European Commission earlier this month also cleared the purchase. Airbus will be building A320neo jets in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Military aviation
A salary up to $97,400 and a signing bonus of $225,000 may help the Air Force replenish
its fighter pilot ranks. The shortfall of 200 this year could grow to 700 by 2021 if something isn't done, officials said. The Air Force wants veteran pilots to make a nine-year commitment to fly fighters.

The problem is, many of them find the lure of being a commercial pilot hard to resist. The competition between the military and airlines for pilots promises to be fierce in the future as airlines seek out young talent to replace retirees. Boeing last year estimated a global need for 460,000 new commercial pilots over the next two decades.

Pilots from all branches are learning to fly F-35s at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and Air Force pilots train on F-22s at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Naval aviators have initial training in Florida at Pensacola and Milton. (Post)

-- A 19-year arrangement ended during the week when the last Air Force pilot finished his instrumentation test. Nearly 100 Air Force student pilots annually have taken the main phase of their flight training at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., while a like number of Navy pilots have trained at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Okla.

But the services decided to end the reciprocal agreement to save travel expenses and trim other associated costs. However, 18 Air Force instructors will continue to be based at Whiting to help train naval and Coast Guard students. (Post)

-- Lt. Col. Dorene Ross is the new commander of the 335th Training Squadron. Lt. Col. Bradley McAlpine relinquished command during a ceremony July 22 at the Roberts Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Facility at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. (Post)

Two congressmen are concerned NASA might award use of a Kennedy Space Center launch pad in Florida to a company that wants exclusive use. The two members of the House subcommittee that approves NASA budgets said Launch Complex 39A is a unique, tax-funded asset that should be available to multiple rocket launchers. SpaceX and Blue Origin are known to have submitted proposals. (Post)

The folks at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center, Miss., are likely keeping a close eye on how this plays out. They are both involved in NASA and commercial space programs.

-- Astronauts at Johnson Space Center in Houston got a look at Boeing's CST-100 space capsule during the week. Boeing is one of the companies building spacecraft to fly astronauts to and from ISS. SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are also building them. (Post)

DDG 1001: Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pasacagoula, Miss., has delivered the final aft peripheral vertical launch system assemblies for the Navy's second Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer, Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001), being built in by General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works in Maine. (Post)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Week in review (7/14 to 7/20)

A possible name change for EADS; an upward revision of numbers for Airbus; the crash of a second target drone in a week at Tyndall Air Force Base; delivery of an upgraded version of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter to the Navy; kudos for an F-35 flight equipment team; the launch of the Navy’s second MUOS satellite; a target date to launch Orbital Sciences' cargo spacecraft; an update on a resort being built on Air Force property near Fort Walton Beach; and a change of command were some of the aerospace stories of interest for the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Here's the week in review:

The European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., or EADS, is considering changing the company's name to the Airbus Group. That's according to Reuters. The change would reflect the success of the company's commercial aircraft sales, two thirds of EADS revenue. The value of the commercial jet sales is expected to increase as airlines move towards more fuel-efficient models. Some of those jetliners will eventually be build along the Gulf Coast. Airbus broke ground in April on an A320 assembly line at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Airbus, by the way, has raised its order target for 2013 to more than 1,000 aircraft, compared with a previous goal of over 800, sales chief John Leahy told Reuters. That puts Airbus on course to beat its 2012 gross order tally of 914 aircraft. Airbus is trying to regain leadership of the $100 billion annual jet market after Boeing grabbed the top spot in both orders and deliveries last year. So far Boeing is winning this year's order race. (Post)

-- Why did Airbus opt to put that assembly line in Mobile? Airbus Americas Chairman Allan McArtor wrote that it all boils down to the relationship Airbus and Mobile had built over the years. McArtor wrote in a guest column for CNBC that Airbus felt Mobile and Alabama would be the ones to stand with the company and meet its needs.

The relationship goes back to the years when EADS, Airbus' parent company, was competing to build tankers for the Air Force. That contract eventually went to Boeing, but it started a relationship that eventually resulted in the A320 assembly line. The first Mobile-assembled A320 will be delivered in 2016. (Post)

Northrop Grumman delivered the first upgraded version of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter to the U.S. Navy earlier this month. The new MQ-8C uses a larger airframe than the MQ-8B Fire Scout. But both aircraft share proven software, avionics, payloads and ship ancillary equipment.

The upgraded Fire Scout responds to an urgent need to provide the Navy with increased endurance, range and payload. It has three times the payload and double the endurance of the MQ-8B, which currently operates on Navy frigates and in Afghanistan. The first deployment of the upgraded MQ-8 system with the MQ-8C Fire Scout aircraft will be in 2014. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

-- An unmanned Air Force QF-4 target drone assigned to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group crashed on the drone runway during take-off during the week, forcing the closing of U.S. 98 for a day. Target drones are equipped with a self-destruct charge powered by a short-life battery that takes 24 hours to fully deplete, and it was a matter of safety to close the road.

The crash occurred while a second drone was in the air. That drone, as planned, was destroyed by a missile over the Gulf of Mexico. The drones assigned to the 53rd WEG run about 100 missions each year and are used as targets for manned aircraft. Just a week earlier another QF-4, which will ultimately be replaced by QF-16s, was destroyed near Port St. Joe after it veered from its planned flight path. (Post)

Lockheed Martin was awarded a $70.4 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract to provide long lead-time parts, material and components required for the delivery of seven conventional take off and landing F-35 aircraft and one short take-off vertical landing F-35 for the government of Italy. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin recently delivered the 100th Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) for the F-35. It combines forward-looking infrared and infrared search and track functionality to provide pilots with situational awareness and air-to-air and air-to-surface targeting from a safe distance.

Lockheed Martin is producing EOTS under the seventh low-rate initial production contract. Components are made at the company's Ocala, Fla., and Santa Barbara, Calif., facilities. Lockheed Martin also makes the low observable window for the aircraft at the company's Orlando, Fla., facility. (Post)

-- One of the Air Force's newest aircrew flight equipment teams is now the Air Force's best. The 33rd Fighter Wing's aircrew flight equipment flight at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., was chosen the best in the Air Force in the small program category for 2012. The wing is the only unit to fly and train on the F-35A fifth generation fighter. (Post)

-- The first F-35B is now at Cherry Point Fleet Readiness Center East in North Carolina to undergo modifications. Workers will reinforce hinges on doors that allow the F-35B to take off and land vertically as part of the first modification to the jets. Such modifications are common once an aircraft joins the fleet. Lt. Col. Steve C. Gillette, of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, flew the F-35 unescorted from Elgin Air Force Base, Fla., to Cherry Point on July 9. (Post)

The Navy's second Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite was launched Friday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., atop an Atlas V. The system is a key step in providing enhanced satellite communications for the Navy and Department of Defense. MUOS is a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system designed to improve beyond-line-of-sight communications for U.S. forces.

MUOS will provide military users 10 times more communications capacity over the existing system by leveraging 3G mobile technology, including simultaneous voice and data capability. Work on the core propulsion system for the MUOS, an A2100 satellite-based spacecraft, is done at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

-- A measure to create a commission to look at consolidating Alabama's Marshall Space Flight Center and Mississippi's Stennis Space Center was withdrawn at the last minute Thursday. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., who represents an area where Goddard Space Flight Center is located, was reportedly upset over cuts in programs managed by Goddard.

Her amendment would have directed the BRAC-like panel to study MSFC and SSC "to determine if their rocket-related activities should be combined in one location." The measure also directed the panel to look at moving Marshall's work to Stennis or Houston's Johnson Space Center. (Post)

-- Orbital Sciences' cargo spacecraft is set to make its first flight to the International Space Station in September. The Dulles, Va., company has a launch window between Sept. 14 and 19 for the Cygnus cargo ship. It will be launched atop an Orbital Science Antares rocket. Orbital was awarded a NASA contract to provide at least eight resupply flights to the ISS. The first stage Antares is powered by twin Aerojet AJ26 engines tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Construction crews are less than a year away from completing a resort in Northwest Florida being developed under an enhanced use lease (EUL) with the Air Force. The Holiday Inn Resort, slated to open in the spring of 2014, is being built on 17 acres of land on Santa Rosa Island owned by Eglin Air Force Base.

The land is used to perform telemetry testing by the 96th Test Wing. The developer will provide infrastructure for Eglin’s 96th Test Wing to install test monitoring equipment on the hotel’s roof that previously sat at ground level. The construction team is getting ready to pour the fifth floor sometime before August. (Post)

-- Col. Daniel J. Orcutt, former Strategy Division chief of the 609th Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia, received the guidon and command of the 505th Command and Control Wing during a change of command ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., July 9. He took over from Col. Mustafa Koprucu. Maj. Gen. Jeffery Lofgren, the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center commander, presided over the ceremony. (Post)

Contract: Science Applications International Corp., McLean, Va., was awarded a $10.2 million modification under a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for services supporting Military Sealift Command's information technology ashore operations. Some of the work, 2.4 percent, will be done in Pensacola, Fla. (Post)

Workers: Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Miss., has applied for a $1.3 million Hurricane Katrina-related community development block grant to add a basic skills training annex to the nearly complete Haley Reeves Barbour Maritime Training Academy. (Post)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Week in review (7/7 to 7/13)

If you're interested in unmanned systems and robotics, this was the week for you. On Wednesday, history was made when an unmanned jet the size of a fighter landed on the deck of a carrier. The next day DARPA unveiled a robot designed to come to the aid of humans during natural and man-made disasters. But almost as a reminder that much work still needs to be done, another robot aircraft, this one a target drone, crashed in the Gulf of Mexico after it went haywire.

Welcome to the age of the Robo sapiens.

The story that grabbed a lot of headlines was the landing of a Northrop Grumman-built X-47B fighter on the deck of a carrier off the coast of Virginia. True, it's not the first time an unmanned aerial vehicle has landed on a moving ship. Northrop Grumman's unmanned Fire Scout helicopters have done so for quite some time now, and smaller unmanned aircraft have been caught in huge nets aboard ships.

But this was a plane that landed on the ship autonomously, using GPS navigation, a high-integrity network connection and advanced flight control software to guide itself through the turbulent air behind the aircraft carrier and onto the moving flight deck, just like generations of naval aviators have done.

The take away – and no doubt it was not lost on the new generation of pilots being trained by the Navy – is that the robot was able to perform what it takes a long time for a human to master. The X-47B was even able to determine on its own to abort a third attempted landing and return to Naval Air Statiaon Patuxent River, Md.

"It isn't very often you get a glimpse of the future. Today, those of us aboard USS George H.W. Bush got that chance,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus about the landing by "Salty Dog 502." What's really remarkable is it was just this past May that the X-47B successfully performed a catapult launch from the same ship, CVN 77. (Post)

For the Gulf Coast, the landing was significant for several reasons, not the least of which is that Northrop Grumman builds portions of two unmanned aircraft, Fire Scout and Global Hawk, in Moss Point, Miss. In addition, one of the X-47Bs will eventually be put on display at Pensacola's National Naval Aviation Museum, according to the Pensacola News Journal.

This is also the region where naval aviators begin initial training and where pilots learn to fly the fifth-generation F-35, F-22 fighters. It's also where the military regularly flies unmanned systems, ranging in size from hand-held systems to plane-sized target drones. And the Gulf Coast is also the home of Florida's Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a recognized leaders in robotics.

A team from Pensacola's IHMC will be going up against other top robotics teams in the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency Robotics Challenge in December at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla., with a final challenge a year later for the $2 million prize.

IHMC may be considered a team to beat by virtue of the initial stage of the competition. The IHMC team won first place in the virtual challenge, where the competitors' software programs were used in computer simulations (Post). IHMC beat 25 other competitors, scoring 52 of a possible 60 points – way better than the other teams. For the next part of the challenge, competitors will use the software in an actual robot. (Recent column)

That robot was unveiled Thursday (Story). Dubbed Atlas, it's a somewhat intimidating looking 6-2, 330 pound robot with a huge chest and extra-long arms designed to help with disaster response. Created by Boston Dynamics, its hydraulically powered and equipped with both laser and stereo vision systems. It will be used as part of the challenge where teams will compete to provide Atlas with a variety of moves that might be required in disaster response. IHMC will be getting its Atlas later this month.

But before we get too carried away about the robotic future, there was another event with a drone that reminds us a lot of work still needs to be done. A drone aircraft out of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., plunged into the Gulf of Mexico near St. Joseph Peninsula State Park after it was destroyed by ground controllers.

Tyndall officials said the unmanned Air Force QF-4 target drone assigned to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group was destroyed after it went "haywire." The Vietnam-era Phantom, converted to fly without a pilot, carries a self-destruct charge and was destroyed as it returned to base after a routine operation. That drone is being replaced by QF-16 drones, unmanned Falcon jets. (Post)

Stay tuned, readers.

NASA is offering its expertise and test facilities to potential lunar-lander partners who might be able to help mount scientific missions to the Moon as early as 2018. A July 2 request for information seeks concepts for an industry-developed robotic lander for NASA and commercial missions. Responses are due Aug. 2.

NASA is proposing no-exchange-of-funds partnerships to private companies willing to put up funding for lander development. NASA is piggybacking on the Google Lunar X Prize, $30 million in prizes to teams that can land a robotic spacecraft on the lunar surface. Right now 22 teams worldwide are in the running, working against a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015. NASA has two facilities in the Gulf Coast region: Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans. (Post)

The Integrated Training Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has trained the 100th pilot to fly an F-35. Maj. Robert Miller chalked up the milestone when he took to the skies above Eglin July 9. The joint service partners at Eglin have flown 2,292 F-35 hours and have 28 aircraft, the largest fleet of F-35s in the world. About 100 pilots and 2,200 maintainers will be qualified annually through the training system at the base. (Post)

The U.K.'s easyJet firmed up an order for 35 A320s with currently available engines and 100 that will be powered by new, more fuel-efficient engines. EasyJet is the U.K.’s largest airline, carrying 55 million passengers a year. It’s also the largest A320 family customer and operator in Europe. (Post)

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport near Panama City, Fla., needs new hangars to lure a top tier aerospace company, according to Bay County Economic Development Alliance Director Neal Wade. He wants two hangars at a cost of some $30 million.

Wade said a couple of potential sources for funding are being worked. Airport Executive Director Parker W. McClellan agreed. He said that if one hangar opened, there could be 50 to 200 additional acres of property that could be developed.

Wade noted that in April, an aircraft maintenance company announced the opening of a 400,000-square-foot facility at Alabama's Dothan Regional Airport. The availability of hangar space was key, Wade said. (Post)

-- Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., got a tip of the hat from the Air Force's chief scientist, Mica Endsely. It was during a breakfast during the week that was hosted by the Air Force Association. National Defense magazine reported that Endsley said the future will bring many challenges to Air Force science and technology initiatives. She said the Air Force needs to look at how to better enable rapid innovation, prototyping and testing.

That's when Eglin was mentioned.

"I was down in Eglin a few weeks ago, and I saw where they're developing new munitions systems and new approaches," she said. "They're taking it out on the range right there, testing them, getting rapid data, and coming back and being able to iterate their product and their ideas very rapidly. That's the kind of thing we need to be doing,” she said. (Story)

-- Col. Jay Jensen, commander of the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., is going to the Pentagon to be senior Air Force policy administrator for the Reserve Forces Policy Board. A new commander will take over the 403rd at the end of this month. The makeup of the 403rd is changing. (Post)

-- The National Naval Aviation Museum is now closed Mondays because of sequestration. The new opening days will remain in effect through September. The museum, which has no cover charge, is closed on Mondays because federal employees handle management of the museum. (Post)

-- Twenty-nine civilian positions will be eliminated at Naval Air Station Pensacola later this year. Another 15 will be eliminated at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla. In Pensacola, jobs are being cut from force protection, command management and morale, welfare and recreation. The Reduction in Force will occur Nov. 30. (Post)

Air show
Although sequestration grounded the Navy Blue Angels from participating in the summer air show at Pensacola Beach, Fla., the show was held Friday and Saturday with an all-civilian lineup. The crowd was not as large as it is when the Blue Angels fly, but folks came out nontheless. The Blue Angels' home is at nearby Naval Air Station Pensacola. (Post)

GE Aviation, which opened its Ellisville, Miss., plant in May, is now renting laboratory space in The Accelerator innovation center in nearby Hattiesburg, to train new employees to make components for jet engines. Two other new businesses are Vatican Capital, a private equity investment firm that moved to The Accelerator in March, and Radiance Technologies, which moved in at the beginning of the year. The Accelerator business incubator was developed by the University of Southern Mississippi. (Post)

SRI International, Menlo Park, Calif., was awarded a $230 million contract for hardware, software, prototype systems, spiral software enhancements and installation training support for the Digital Video Laboratory III. Air Force Test Center/PZIE, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Workers: The demand for jobs in South Mississippi's maritime industry is higher than ever. Huntington Ingalls, VT Halter Marine, both in Pascagoula, and Trinity Yachts in Gulfport are constantly seeking skilled workers for new projects. (Post)

Supply vessels: Edison Chouest Offshore of Galliano, La., will build more than 40 new vessels to meet demand for offshore oil and gas support in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic and Brazil. Most of the building will be done at Chouest's North American Shipbuilding in Larose, LaShip in Houma, Gulf Ship in Gulfport, Miss., and Tampa Ship in Tampa, Fla. (Post)

Contract: Raytheon Integrated Defense System, Portsmouth, R.I., was awarded $14.2 million for cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order #0004 under a previously awarded Basic Ordering Agreement for upgrading the AN/AQS-20A mine hunting sonar 3493-AS-780-9 configuration with a high frequency wide band forward look sonar and multi-function side looking sonar and associated components. The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity. (Post)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Week in review (6/30 to 7/6)

NASA has traditionally been an organization where innovation is important, and that hasn't changed in an age where commercial companies are handling low-Earth orbit missions. The agency is focusing on deep-space missions, and innovation is important to that.

A project in Huntsville, which could eventually have implications for Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, is a case in point. NASA recently successfully tested a pressurized, 8-foot diameter cryogenic propellant tank made of composite materials.

That's important for the next generation of rockets and spacecraft needed for future space exploration. Cryogenic propellants are gasses chilled to subfreezing and condensed to form combustible liquids. Propellants such as liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen are used to provide the thrust needed for large rockets. Tanks traditionally have been made out of metals, but the tank tested at Huntsville's Marshall Space Flight Center is a potential game-changer.

Switching from metallic to composite construction could increase performance through a dramatic reduction in weight. A potential initial target application for the composite technology is an upgrade to the upper stage of NASA's Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket.

"This investment in game changing space technology will help enable NASA's exploration of deep space while directly benefiting American industrial capability in the manufacturing and use of composites," Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Boeing built the tank at its Tukwila, Wash. facility. NASA and Boeing are in the process of manufacturing an 18 foot-diameter composite tank that also will be tested at Marshall next year. (Story)

The Gulf Coast region is heavily involved in advanced materials work, notably at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss., and at Florida State University's High-Performance Materials Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. In addition, Michoud is where the Orion and core stage of SLS are being built, and SSC is where the engines will all be tested.

- Lockheed Martin delivered the third of four highly elliptical earth orbit (HEO) satellite payloads as part of the Air Force’s Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS). The SBIRS program, which provides improved missile warning capabilities, include four HEO payloads, four GEO satellites, and ground assets to receive, process, and disseminate the infrared mission data. SBIRS is an A2100 satellite-based spacecraft, and work on the A2100 core's propulsion system, which positions the spacecraft in orbit, is done at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Syphax Airlines of Tunisia has confirmed its order to buy three fuel-efficient A320neo jetliners and three A320, all powered by CFM International engines. The list price of an A320neo is $100.2 million and the A320 is $91.5 million. The company announced plans to buy the planes at the recent Paris Air Show. Airbus broke ground in April on a $600 million A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

- EADS North America, Herndon, Va., was awarded a $12.9 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price, option-filled contract for contractor logistics support for the Army's aviation assets. Work will be performed in Columbus, Miss. (Post) In addition to the Lakota helicopter plant in Columbus, EADS also has operations in Mobile, Ala.

Northrop Grumman won a training-simulation contract potentially worth $490 million to support the Air Force's next-generation air-combat virtual-training network. Northrop Grumman Information Systems of Herndon, Va., was awarded the follow-on support for the Combat Air Force Distributed Mission Operations and Integration program.

The system will connect dissimilar combat-aircraft simulators, from fighters to refueling aircraft, to the same interactive trainer. The F-35 pilot-training center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., one of the centers that will be connect to the Air Force's mission-operations training network. (Post)

- United Technologies Corp., Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $134 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract. This modification provides for non-recurring and recurring sustainment, site activation and depot activation efforts in support of the Joint Strike Fighter F135 Propulsion System Low Rate Initial Production Lot VI. (Post)

- Lockheed Martin received a $12.7 million contract modification to supply the final batch of automatic backup oxygen supply (A-BOS) systems for the F-22 Raptor fleet. F-22 pilots are trained at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

Col. Patrick Higby next month will become commander of the 81st Training Wing at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. He'll be replacing Brig. Gen. Brad Spacy, who has been named director for logistics, installations and mission support for the European Air Force command at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, according to the Sun Herald. Spacy has been commander at Keesler since May 2012. Higby is currently deputy commander of the White House Communications Agency at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. (Story)

- Over at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Col. Bill West took command of the 1st Special Operations Wing in a change of command ceremony during the week. West, a navigator, comes to Hurlburt from the 27th Special Operations Group at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico. He succeeds Col. Jim Slife, who has headed the wing for two years. (Post)

At nearby Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Col. Christopher Riga took over as commander of the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) during a change of command ceremony. He's the group’s third commander since it moved from Fort Bragg, N.C., to its new 500-acre cantonment in Eglin Air Force Base. Riga replaces Col. Antonio Fletcher, who has served as commander of the 7th Special Forces Group for two years. (Post)

- Eglin Air Force Base's northwest gate will be closed beginning Monday because of manpower issues from civilian furloughs, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. It will remain closed until the furloughs are lifted, said Lois Walsh, a spokeswoman for Eglin. That could mean September. An estimated 40,000 vehicles use Eglin's four gates each day. Of those, about 2,000 go through the northwest gate. (Story)

- Sequestration has hit the region’s base commissaries. In Florida, commissaries at Pensacola Naval Exchange near Corry Station and Eglin Air Force base are among 247 commissaries that will be closed on Mondays. The commissary at Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Miss., will also be closed Monday.

About 148 other commissaries will close Tuesdays as well. The list includes Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Hurlburt Field and Tyndall in Florida, Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, Naval Air Station Columbus and Naval Air Station Meridian, all in Mississippi, and Naval Air Station/Joint Reserve Base New Orleans in Belle Chasse, La. (Post)

A feature story was published during the week in the Northwest Florida Daily News about the 4th Special Operations Squadron, which is getting a much-needed break after 12 years of nearly constant deployment. The squadron, which provides close air support for Special Operations ground troops, has been in high demand that whole time. Airmen have been deploying and coming home in two- or three-month cycles the entire time. (Story)

Sunil Harman begins work July 23 as Okaloosa County's new airport director. Harman, who has worked as Tallahassee’s aviation director since 2011, was chosen from 175 applicants. He will oversee Northwest Florida Regional Airport, Destin Airport and Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview. Harman replaces Greg Donovan, who left in March 1. (Post)

A proposed change to Okaloosa County’s land development code would prohibit private or residential airports from operating on the waterfront. The policy change also would restrict private airports to one of three zoning areas: agricultural, institutional or airport industrial park. County commissioners held the first of two public hearings on the change Tuesday. The second hearing is scheduled for July 16 in Fort Walton Beach. There's been some concern over helicopter sightseeing businesses adding to air traffic congestion. (Story)

Contract: Raytheon Integrated Defense System, Portsmouth, R.I., was awarded $14.2 million for cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order #0004 under a previously awarded Basic Ordering Agreement for upgrading the AN/AQS-20A mine hunting sonar 3493-AS-780-9 configuration with a high frequency wide band forward look sonar and multi-function side looking sonar and associated components. The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity. (Post)