Saturday, October 26, 2013

Week in review (10/20 to 10/26)

It was an active week for the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor, with SpaceX announcing it will test a next generation engine at Stennis Space Center, Miss.; Italy's Comau Aerospace joining the Airbus team in Mobile, Ala., as the assembly line robotics supplier; a $5 billion order for A320s from Mexico; a Stennis Space Center partner chalking up a successful space mission; a $24.7 million contract modification for QF-16 drones for Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.; several F-35 contracts, including a $508 million deal for engines; and a key aerospace gathering in Washington state.

Here's your week in review:

Last week during an aerospace conference in Washington state, a reporter for the Puget Sound Business Journal asked Barry Eccleston, president and CEO of Airbus Americas, if Airbus will eventually establish a facility in Washington.

"We probably don't need another engineering center in the U.S. We're happy with what we are doing in Mobile," he said. That belief in Mobile and the Gulf Coast region affirms what Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas, has been saying for quite some time now.

Back in November during a meeting with the media, McArtor said he was excitement about the future of this region, and what the Mobile campus can be. "I intend to make this the example within Airbus," so when projects come along Mobile will be a strong contender.

Indeed, as recently as the Paris Air Show McArtor told the Seattle Times that in 10 years Airbus will build "more than just A320s in Mobile." He said that the wide-body A330 could still be in production then, and could be built in Mobile, perhaps as a military conversion to a freighter or a tanker.

So why was Airbus in Washington? Here are some figures that make that clear. According to the Washington Department of Commerce, that state has 1,256 companies in the aerospace supply chain and 131,000 workers. Nearly 75 percent of them supply Boeing, 40 percent supply Airbus, over 25 percent serve Spirit and another 20-25 percent Brazil's Embraer.

"What we do need from the state of Washington is a high-quality, innovative supply chain," Eccleston told the Puget Sound Business Journal. Airbus is spending $12 billion a year in the United States and expects to double that. Of that amount, Airbus buys about $180 million worth of parts from Washington suppliers, and it hopes to get that up to $300 million in seven years.

The number of suppliers in Washington can't help but intrigue Alabama and other states in the Southeast with a foot in the aerospace door. Alabama and South Carolina officials were also in Seattle to develop relationships with aerospace suppliers during the annual conference.

According to the Alabama Department of Commerce, Alabama Secretary of State Greg Canfield told the Seattle Times that he expects the aerospace industry to grow in Alabama in the same way the automotive industry has, through assembly plant expansions and the creation of an ever-widening supplier base.

"We fully expect the Airbus experience will be the same," he told the newspaper.

Canfield also told the Puget Sound Business Journal that the growth of aviation manufacturing in the Southeast means the region will become even more attractive to suppliers serving Airbus, Boeing and other companies.

All of this interest from the Southeast does concern economic development oficials in Washington state, according to the Seattle Times. The South has been a big player for years – it's where the military placed a lot of aviation-related bases and where NASA built facilities for the space program. But aircraft manufacturing is a concern in Washington state.

In addition to Boeing's 787 assembly line in Charleston, S.C., and Airbus' A320 assembly line in Mobile, Embraer has a plant in Jacksonville, Fla., and Gulfstream has one in Savannah, Ga. Even the latest iteration of aircraft assembly, unmanned aerial systems, have found homes in Moss Point and Columbus, Miss., among other locations.

No wonder Washington state is a bit concerned.

Italy's Comau Aerospace was picked by Airbus to supply the aircraft main assembly and test stations for the A320 plant being built in Mobile, Ala. The $600 million final assembly line will produce A319, A320 and A321 aircraft. Comau Aerospace will provide all jigs and tooling for the Mobile plant, and plans to open an integration center near the plant that will offer full project support.

Comau, a subsidiary of the diversified manufacturer Fiat Group, was founded in 1973. It makes automation systems for the aerospace and automotive industries and operates in 23 locations in 13 countries. Headquartered in Turin, Italy, its North American operation is in Southfield, Mich. (Post)

In addition, Hoar Program Management awarded the Mobile office of Terracon Consultants Inc. Terracon will provide construction material testing and special inspections to support the prime contractor for the $600 million project’s Package A, which includes the final assembly line hangar, logistics building and service building at Brookley Aeroplex. Terracon is an employee owned engineering consulting firm that employs more than 3,000 at 140 offices in 40 states. (Post)

-- Mexican budget airline VivaAerobus has ordered 52 Airbus A320-family jets in a record deal worth $5.1 billion. It includes 40 A320neo jets. Airbus said the deal was the biggest ever order for its aircraft by a single airline in Latin America. News that VivaAerobus would place a large order with Airbus was previously reported by Reuters as far back as June. (Post)

SpaceX, the first commercial company to successfully fly a cargo mission to the International Space Station, has chosen Stennis Space Center, Miss., for initial testing of its next generation Raptor methane rocket engine.

The E-2 test stand at SSC will be made methane capable, and testing will be in early 2014.

SpaceX is just the latest commercial spaceflight company to pick SSC for rocket engine testing. Orbital Sciences, which just last week successfully completed its resupply mission to the International Space Station, tests AJ26 engines that power its Antares launch vehicle at SSC. Commercial company Blue Origin also tests engine at SSC. (Post)

The Raptor rocket engine is significant. It's capable of generating nearly 300 tons of thrust in vacuum, around four times more powerful than the Merlin 1D used in SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch vehicle. And that's the engine that may well take SpaceX to Mars.

Nicknamed "Red Dragon" – SpaceX has made no secret about heading to Mars, even publishing a graphic of their spacecraft touching down on the Red Planet. The Raptor engine is a key element of that plan. According to, Raptor is a sea-change in SpaceX’s propulsion approach since it shuns RP-1 and liquid oxygen, currently used in the Falcon 9's Merlin engines, in favor of methane and liquid oxygen.

According to, initially the new engine was mentioned for a role powering an upper stage, but now it appears it will serve as the main engine for the first stage of a new rocket.

We'll keep a close eye on this one.

-- As I mentioned above, one of the commercial companies using engine test facilities at SSC, Orbital Sciences, celebrated last week its first successful resupply demonstration to the International Space Station.

The Cygnus spacecraft, loaded with items no longer needed at the ISS, burned up on re-entry into the atmosphere. Unlike SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, Cygnus is designed to burn up. Cygnus launched Sept. 18 atop an Antares rocket and docked with ISS on Sept. 29.

Dragon was the first private company to successfully dock with ISS.

Both SpaceX and Orbital Science have billion-dollar NASA contracts to deliver cargo to the ISS on multiple missions over the coming years. (Post)

-- NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was at Stennis Space Center, Miss., to welcome employees back to work after the 16-day U.S. government shutdown. Bolden held separate meetings with SSC and NASA Shared Services Center workers. He also toured the B-2 Test Stand, which is being prepared to test the core stage of NASA’s new Space Launch System, which will carry humans deeper into space than ever before. (Post)

A decision on whether the University of Florida and the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County will build a dedicated robot vehicle testing center is expected by early 2014.

UF and the EDC have been exploring building an unmanned aerial vehicle test facility just south of the college's Research and Engineering Education Facility outside Eglin Air Force Base.

Nathan Sparks, the EDC's executive director, said a decision could be made in the next two to three months. The project has an estimated cost of $4.5 million, but the college and EDC are evaluating ways to lower that.

Unmanned systems are of high interest to the Gulf Coast region. The military at Tyndall Air Force Base, Eglin AFB, Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City, all in Florida, Camp Shelby and Stennis Space Center, Miss., all work with unmanned systems. In addition, Pensacola’s Institute for Human and Machine Cognition is internationally known for its work with robotic systems. Also, Fire Scout unmanned helicopters and Global Hawk are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

-- A full-scale mockup of Northrop Grumman's X-47B unmanned combat air system is now at the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. In May 2013 the X-47B made its first successful catapult launch from the USS George H.W. Bush, and in July it made its first successful arrested landing aboard the ship. In August the Navy decided to delay the retirement of the prototype aircraft and look for new testing opportunities. (Post)

-- Boeing of St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $24.7 million modification for an existing contract for QF-16 Full-Scale Aerial Target low rate initial production. The drones will go to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The contract modification is for the exercise of the low rate initial production option under the basic contract, and is for the purchase of 13 QF-16s, 12 drone peculiar support equipment, and integration engineering support. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBYK (Aerial Targets), Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. (Post)

-- Defense Support Services LLC, Marlton, N.J., was awarded a $14.9 million modification exercising option year five under an existing Aerial Targets contract to support live-fire weapons system testing with the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group in the testing for all air-to-air missiles for F-22, F-35, F-16, and F-15 aircraft. Work will be performed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and Holloman AFB, N.M., and is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2014. (Post)

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center and right now has more F-35s than any other location. As of the end of the week the 33rd Fighter Wing had 33 of the fifth generation fighters, and all three variants, on station. There were several F-35 updates during the week.

United Technologies Corp., Pratt and Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., is being awarded a $508.2 million modification to the previously awarded F-35 Lot VI low rate initial production advance acquisition contract. It provides for the procurement of 18 F135 conventional take off and landing engines for the U.S. Air Force; six short take-off and vertical landing engines for the U.S. Marine Corps; and seven carrier variant engines for the U.S. Navy.

In addition, this contract procures three F135 CTOL engines for Italy; two CTOL propulsion systems for Australia; one F135 CTOL spare propulsion system for Italy; and one F135 spare propulsion system for Australia. This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps (42 percent); the U.S. Air Force (41 percent); and the international partners (17 percent). The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $30 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract to provide long lead-time parts, materials and components required for the delivery of two additional Low Rate Initial Production Lot VIII F-35 conventional takeoff and landing aircraft for the government of Japan.

Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas, and is expected to be completed in July 2014. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting authority. (Post)

Flightglobal reports that the $30 million contract will let Japan perform the local assembly of its first two F-35s. In December 2011 Tokyo picked the conventional take-off and landing F-35A for a 42-aircraft requirement.

The first four will be delivered from Lockheed’s Fort Worth site in Texas, with the remainder to be completed using a final assembly and check-out (FACO) line being established with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Nagoya. (Post)

The Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team is funded for 2014 and expected to return to a full demonstration schedule. The team is scheduled to perform 65 shows at 34 locations in 2014. They’ve been grounded most of 2013 due to sequestration. (Post)

-- Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, commander of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, announced during the week the full operational capability of the command's five-center system. Prior to the reorganization, AFMC was made up of 12 centers. The Armament Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is under the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson, and Eglin's 96th Test Wing reports to the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (Post)

-- The 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron of the 53rd Electronic Warfare Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., earned an Air Force Outstanding Unit award and five individual awards from the Association of Old Crows. (Post)

-- The 96th Test Wing reached an historic testing milestone this summer. The 2,000th sled test mission was conducted at the 96th TW's Kinetic Energy Munitions Test Facility at the Eglin Test and Training Complex Test Area C-74. (Post)

-- Officials at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in West Bay, near Panama City, Fla., hope to get a $17 million crosswind runway by 2017. The board during the week accepted a $5.5 million grant from the Department of Transportation that's the first step in the process. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Corp.
, Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $26.7 million modification to the existing contract to retrofit fielded Mission Training Centers with Out the Window visual systems upgrade and night vision goggles capability. Effort includes upgrades for F-22 Training Systems at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and other bases. … Electronic Metrology Laboratory LLC, Franklin, Tenn., was awarded a $9.6 million contract for base operating support services at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla. Work is expected to be completed by November 2014. … Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc., Rancho Cordova, Calif., was awarded a $16 million contract for the procurement of a classified quantity of BLU-129 warhead casings. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … M1 Support Services, Denton, Texas, was awarded a $16.9 million modification to exercise option year two under a previously existing contract for T-38 support for the T-38 Companion Trainer program. Work will be performed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and other bases. … Asset Group Inc., Oklahoma City, Okla., was awarded $7.3 million task order under a previously awarded multiple award construction contract for renovations to building 600 at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Work will be performed in Pensacola and is expected to be completed by January 2015.

LCS 1: Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom suffered flooding in its bilge from discharge piping from a gas turbine motor lube oil cooler on Oct. 20. The Freedom class LCS ships are built in Wisconsin and the Independence class variants are built in Mobile, Ala. (Post)
Tug: Construction of Signet Maritime's seventh ASD tug in less than four years, M/V Signet VIGILANT, is underway at Signet Shipbuilding & Repair in Pascagoula. The 30 metric ton vessel will be the first Castleman Maritime design for Signet with delivery slated for July 2014. (Post)
Anniversary: Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., held a Family Day last weekend to commemorate 75 years of building ships on the banks of the Pascagoula River. Mississippi's largest private employer builds Aegis-guided missile destroyers, amphibious assault ships and amphibious transport ships for the U.S. Navy and National Security Cutters for the U.S. Coast Guard. (Post)
Lockheed: Lockheed Martin, Mission Systems and Training, Moorestown, N.J., was awarded a $21.4 million modification to previously awarded contract for AEGIS Weapon System work on the DDG 51 class ships. Twenty-six percent of the work will be done in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)
Somerset: Ingalls Shipbuilding in Avondale, La., delivered the amphibious transport dock Somerset (LPD 25) to the U.S. Navy. Somerset is the ninth ship in the San Antonio (LPD 17) class of ships Ingalls has delivered to the Navy. (Post)
NSC: The U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Hamilton was christened at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., Saturday. Hamilton is the fourth of eight planned ships in the Legend-class of technologically advanced multi-mission cutters. (Post)

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