Saturday, November 2, 2013

Week in review (10/27 to 11/2)

Boeing's decision to have much of the design work for the new 777X done outside Seattle has no direct impact on the Gulf Coast aerospace region, but could have an impact on aerospace in the broader Southeast. That, in turn, could impact the Gulf Coast.

Boeing engineering teams in Charleston, S.C., Huntsville, Ala., Long Beach, Calif., Philadelphia and St. Louis will be doing much of the design work of the next-generation 777, dubbed 777X. The Boeing Design Center in Moscow will also be tapped.

But no decision has been made about the role of Puget Sound, where Boeing designs and makes the current 777, in the new version of the plane. Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee called Boeing's decision about the design work "disappointing." (Post)

Reuters reported that the decision was seen as a sign that the jobs building the 777X could migrate to lower-cost, nonunion states. The 777X is a twin-engine medium-sized wide-body jet that will feature extra long carbon-fiber composite wings and leverage technologies from the 787.

The concern is great enough that Inslee is considering proposing a package of tax incentives to persuade Boeing to put 777X design and assembly work at its giant factory in Everett.

It's understandable that the folks in Washington state are concerned. It was once the headquarters for Boeing, until the company moved those jobs to Chicago. And now the state is watching as economic development folks from the Southeast make a pitch for suppliers to set up shop in the South.

The wealth of suppliers in Washington intrigues states in the Southeast with a foot in the aerospace door. Washington state has 1,256 companies in the aerospace supply chain with 131,000 workers. Nearly 75 percent of them supply Boeing, 40 percent supply Airbus, and up to 25 percent supply Embraer. Airbus alone spends $12 billion a year with U.S. suppliers and expects to double that.

Alabama Secretary of State Greg Canfield has said that as the Southeast increases its aerospace footprint, it will become even more attractive to suppliers serving Airbus, Boeing and other companies. He makes a good point.

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.

If you’re a supplier, you may find opening a facility somewhere in that triangular region makes sense. It’s about 400 miles between Mobile and Jacksonville, and another 240 miles between Jacksonville and Charleston, S.C.

We'll keep an eye on this.

JetBlue Airways placed an order for 15 A321ceo and 20 A321neo aircraft. In addition, the airline has opted to upsize 8 A320ceo and 10 A320neo aircraft currently on backlog to 8 A321ceo and 10 A321neo, respectively. This order marks the 10,000th order for an Airbus A320 family aircraft.

JetBlue will be the first airline in the world to take delivery of an aircraft from Airbus’ newest assembly facility, currently under construction in Mobile, Ala. The facility will create 1,000 new jobs in the U.S. Gulf Coast region. Deliveries at the Mobile facility will begin in 2016. (Post)

Meanwhile, the first 10 manufacturing-related employees hired for the Mobile assembly line reported during the week for orientation. Classroom training will begin the first full week of this month. Local training will last two months before the group goes to the final assembly line in Hamburg, Germany, for hands-on training that could last as many as nine months. (Post)

-- Airbus plans to offer to retrofit fuel-saving wingtips on older versions of its A320 jets
beginning in 2015. Airbus says the wingtips cut fuel costs by up to 4 percent and increase range by up to 185 kilometers. Airbus is matching Boeing in making the wingtips available on older models as an option. (Post)

NASA's deep space craft, Orion, was powered on for the first time at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., recently. Preliminary data indicate Orion's vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system performed as expected. All of Orion's avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1, targeted to launch in the fall of 2014. Orion is built in part at Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans. (Post)

NASA's commercial partners are also making progress on their efforts. SpaceX, which recently said it would test its new Raptor rocket engines at Stennis Space Center, Miss., plans to demonstrate next summer the Dragon spacecraft's ability to carry astronauts to safety in the event of an in-flight emergency.

In the test along Florida's space coast, a Dragon spacecraft will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket and an abort command will be issued when it’s flying through the area of maximum dynamic pressure. The test spacecraft will be retrieved from splashdown and returned to Port Canaveral by barge so data can be incorporated into the system's design.

SpaceX is one of three companies working under NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative to develop spaceflight capabilities that eventually could provide launch services to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. SpaceX has already flown successful cargo missions to the ISS. (Post)

Another one of those companies, Sierra Nevada, recently marked up the first free-flight test of its prototype Dream Chaser spacecraft. The flight in California went well, but the spacecraft was damaged when its landing gear failed to deploy properly.

The spacecraft, a lifting body spacecraft that looks like a mini-Space Shuttle, was unmanned during the test. It was released from an air-crane helicopter at 12,000 feet and adhered to the design flight trajectory throughout the flight profile.

Sierra Nevada contracted with Lockheed Martin to assemble the composite structure for the first space-bound Dream Chaser at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (Post)

Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron-501 recently completed its first short take-off and vertical landing mission in an F-35B at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., home of the F-35 training center where pilots and maintainers train on all three variants of the F-35.

The flight happened late last month when Maj. Brendan M. Walsh flew the hour-long mission where the aircraft remained in the STOVL configuration the entire time. Walsh qualified in vertical landing operations six months ago at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.

Walsh is the only pilot at Eglin qualified to fly in the STOVL configuration. But he said the flight paved the way to locally train F-35B instructors and new students in STOVL operations. (Post)

In another F-35 milestone, this one at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., an F-35B dropped a 500-pound guided bomb at a tank. The laser-guided GBU-12 Paveway II was dropped from its internal weapons bay while the plane flew at around 25,000 feet.

The Pentagon's top arms buyer recently said the F-35 program had made sufficient progress to budget for higher production in fiscal year 2015. (Post)

Along those lines, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $422 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract for recurring sustainment support for F-35 aircraft. Support to be provided includes ground maintenance activities, action request resolution, depot activation activities and more.

Work will be done in Texas, California, Florida, New Hampshire, Maryland and the United Kingdom and is expected to be completed in October 2014. This contract combines purchases for the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy and the governments of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Canada, Norway and Denmark. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. (Post)

A larger variant of the Northrop Grumman-built Fire Scout unmanned helicopter completed its first day of flying late in the week at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, Calif. In the first flight, the MQ-8C flew for seven minutes to validate the autonomous control systems. The second flight was a pattern around the airfield, where the Fire Scout reached an altitude of 500 feet.

The MQ-8C upgrade, based on a Bell 407 airframe, will eventually replace the MQ-8B, based on a Schweizer airframe. The MQ-8B has seen a lot of service, both on ships and on land in Afghanistan. It's currently operating aboard USS Samuel B. Roberts.

The MQ-8C is larger, has a range of 150 nautical miles and a payload capacity of more than 700 pounds. The MQ-8B from the start has been built in part in Moss Point, Miss., where work also will be done on the MQ-8C. (Post)

In Florida, Pensacola International Airport on Monday will hold a party to mark Southwest Airlines’ new daily, nonstop service to Nashville, Tenn., and Houston. The first flight will arrive Sunday from Nashville. The airport had courted Southwest for years, and got the airline when Southwest bought AirTran, which had been serving the airport. Southwest chose to keep the Pensacola service. (Post)

Another much smaller airline, startup Southern Airways Express, is having enough success with flights to Florida's Destin Airport that the airport will become a cornerstone of the Memphis carrier’s service next year.

The airline in May started offering direct flights on nine-seat Cessna Caravans between Destin and Memphis, Oxford, Miss., Birmingham, Ala., and New Orleans. The chief operating officer says the Destin flights are doing better than expected. (Post)

At Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., an advanced conventional precision effects warhead, the Kinetic Energy Projectile, was successfully tested at hypersonic speed by the 846th Test Squadron. The squadron is a geographically separated unit of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

During the test, the sled train exceeded 3,500 feet-per-second greater than Mach 3 or three times the speed of sound. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was responsible for the design and development of the warhead itself. (Post)

Meanwhile, back in Northwest Florida, the oldest CV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft in the Air Force inventory conducted its last test flight with the 413th Flight Test Squadron on Thursday at Hurlburt Field. The plane has been used to test every major upgrade and modification of the CV-22 fleet.

The tilt-rotor will become a display piece at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The first operational CV-22 was delivered to the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt in January 2007. (Post)

-- Col. James Phillips was chosen to take command of the 919th Special Operations Wing at Duke Field, Fla., on Dec. 7. He succeeds Col. Anthony Comtois, who left in September to become commander of the Joint Special Operations Air Component for Special Operations Command Africa. (Post)

Cubic Defense Applications Inc., San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $25 million contract for foreign military sales P5Combat Training System (P5CTS) combined hardware buy. Work will be done in San Diego, Calif., and Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and is expected to be complete by July 20, 2015. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBYK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. (Post)

USMI: United States Marine Inc., Gulfport, Miss., was awarded a $15.8 million contract for post-production and contractor logistical support services for the combatant craft assault. The work will be performed in Gulfport, Miss., and is expected to be completed by November 2017. (Post)
Zumwalt: General Dynamics Bath Iron Works successfully launched the Navy's first Zumwalt-class destroyer during the week at Bath, Maine shipyard. The ship’s composite deck and hangar were built by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Gulfport, Miss. (Post)
Station Pascagoula: Haskell Co. of Jacksonville, Fla., was awarded a $4.6 million U.S. Coast Guard design-build contract for infrastructure work needed to support Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) at Coast Guard Station Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

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