Saturday, November 30, 2013

Week in review (11/24 to 11/30)

With the Airbus A320 final assembly line taking shape in Mobile, Ala., economic development officials are pushing hard to lure suppliers to the Gulf Coast region. And December promises to be a big month.

Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield will lead a delegation to Hamburg, Germany, this week for the Aviation Forum 2013, a Dec. 4-5 conference that attracts aviation suppliers looking to work with aerospace giant Airbus.

"The Aviation Forum gives Alabama the opportunity to get in front of dozens of companies who will be looking to support the Airbus final assembly line in Mobile," Canfield said. "Our goal is to make sure each and every one of those companies know about the development sites, infrastructure and opportunities in Alabama should they consider a location in our state in support of the Airbus Mobile operations."

The Alabama group includes a South Alabama contingent that will be led by Sandy Stimpson, the new mayor of Mobile, who's making his first trip to Germany since taking office Nov. 4. Joining Stimpson, who will be one of the speakers at the forum, will be representatives from the Mobile County Commission, Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, Mobile Airport Authority, Alabama State Docks, Alabama Power Co., and the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance.

"This is an incredible opportunity to showcase Mobile on the international stage before many Airbus partners and suppliers," Stimpson said in a news release. "Our mission is to make them aware of what we have available in our region and recruit these jobs to Mobile."

During their stay the Alabama group will meet with Airbus company leaders and tour the Airbus Hamburg plant. They'll also meet individually with several supplier companies during the conference. (Post)

The Alabama group won't be the only ones from this region in Germany. The Gulf Coast Aerospace Coalition, formed in September by Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton and Bay counties, will also attend the Aviation Forum.

The coalition is also hosting the first International Aerospace Industry Forum for Northwest Florida Leadership in Hamburg Dec. 8-11. The primary purpose is to educate the group about Airbus' impact on the region, as well as elevate the visibility of Northwest Florida.

Among other things, those attending the leadership forum will hear from European speakers about education and skilled training expectations from Airbus and its subcontractors, and what they will be looking for in expansion opportunities.

-- Because the groups will be in Hamburg, one topic likely to come up may be the protests that took place in Hamburg and 29 other locations during the week. More than 20,000 EADS workers, including those who work for Airbus, took to the streets in Germany to protest restructuring plans they fear could cost thousands of jobs.

EADS is planning to combine its defense and space subsidiaries next year and might sell some operations. EADS, which has some 140,000 workers worldwide, including 50,000 in Germany, wants to streamline the collection of German, French and Spanish businesses that created the company in 2000.

The reorganization follows the company's decision this year to scrap a decades-old Franco-German ownership pact to reduce government interference and give management more freedom to reshape the group. The name EADS is being dropped in favor of Airbus Group, after its best-known product. (Post)

-- Another topic likely to come up in the German trip will be Boeing's decision to look at locations outside of Washington State to build the 777X. It's an improved version of the Boeing plane, and among other improvements will have longer, composite wings that will fold up on the ends so it can still be handled at current airports. Boeing said it was looking elsewhere after machinists rejected a contract extension that included labor concessions. One site being considered is Huntsville, Ala.

Boeing is the largest aerospace company in Alabama, where it's had a presence for more than 50 years. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Canfield recently met with Boeing officials to discuss building the 777X in Alabama. Boeing has already said some engineering work on the 777X will be done in Huntsville.

But it's also possible Boeing will reach an accord with its union and keep the 777X at the same location where the current 777 is built.

-- One final Airbus-related item: Spring Airlines Co., China's biggest non state-controlled carrier, agreed to buy 30 additional A320 jets and may buy more as government policy shifts to favor discount airlines. The Shanghai-based airline signed an agreement on Nov. 22 for the A320 single-aisle jets due from 2015, pending government approval. The purchase has a list price of about $2.75 billion. (Post)

The Air Force is eliminating the selective reenlistment bonus (SRB) for 45 career fields,
officials said during the week. Airmen in fields with canceled bonuses have until Wednesday, Dec. 4, to reenlist and still receive the bonus.

Ten career fields still in high demand with low manning, such as battlefield airmen and cyberspace specialties, remain on the SRB list. The changes are being blamed on sequestration and the push for a smaller Air Force.

Tyndall AFB, Eglin AFB, Hurlburt Field, Duke Field and Keesler Air Force Base are all in the Gulf Coast region. (Post)

-- The National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., has a new motion simulator ride: the Blue Angels 4D simulator. The simulator gives the rider a feeling of what it’s like to fly with the Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornets. The ride opened Nov. 8, and while getting into the museum is free, it costs $7 to go on the simulator. (Post)

The Mississippi Research Consortium has been awarded a $10 million contract to provide engineering and scientific research to NASA, other government agencies and various tenants at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The period of performance will be a one-year base period with four one-year options through Nov. 30, 2018.

Areas of work include rocket propulsion testing research and development, project formulation, new business development, remote sensing applications, ecosystem integration and analysis, coastal community resiliency and sustainable development, water quality, climate change and variability effects on regional ecosystems, acoustics, image analysis, geographic information systems, computational fluid dynamics, polymers/ceramics, electron microscopy, micro-electromechanical systems, magneto hydrodynamics, diagnostics instrumentation, and other associated scientific, computational and engineering areas.

The consortium includes Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, University of Southern Mississippi and University of Mississippi. (Post)

-- An Aerojet AJ26 engine had a successful hot fire test at Stennis Space Center, Miss., Nov. 21. The test was on the E1 test stand and lasted the full duration 54 seconds. The AJ26 provides the power for the first stage of 133-foot tall Antares launch vehicle, built by Orbital Sciences Corp.

Orbital is one of the companies under contract to NASA to provide supply missions to the International Space Station. In October, the Antares launched the company’s Cygnus spacecraft on a successful mission to the ISS.

Earlier this month, J-2X engine E10003 had a successful 50-second test at SSC. (Post)

Rolls-Royce was awarded a $215 million contract to produce and support LiftSystems for the F-35B, the Marine Corps variant that can take off and land vertically. The new agreement with Pratt and Whitney for the sixth production lot includes six LiftSystems, plus sustainment, program management, engineering and field support.

Pratt and Whitney's F135 engine powers all three variants of the F35. Rolls-Royce has delivered 42 LiftSystems and has expanded field support to include five locations where F-35B aircraft are flown, including Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., center for F-35 training. (Post)

-- Will the cost of an F-35 drop? Some think that's possible if South Korea ends up buying 40 of the Lockheed Martin-built planes. The thinking is it could save the U.S. military about $2 billion by driving down the per-plane cost.

The buy would offset any move by the U.S. military to deal with mandatory budget cuts by postponing orders for more than 50 jets over the next five years. One analyst said Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand might follow suit and order F-35s. (Post)

A second of the larger-version Fire Scout unmanned helicopter has been delivered to the Navy. Final assembly of the MQ-8C was done at Northrop Grumman’s unmanned systems center at the Jackson County Aviation Technology Park in Moss Point, Miss., adjacent to the Trent Lott International Airport.

The 101,000 square-foot Moss Point facility opened in 2006 and has been the final assembly location for the MQ-8B Fire Scout, the smaller version of the UAV. It also does center fuselage work on all variants of the Global Hawk.

Doing the final assembly of the larger version of the Fire Scout, which uses a Bell 407 airframe, makes sense. According to George Vardoulakis, vice president for medium range tactical systems for Northrop Grumman, the company has a lot of confidence in the manufacturing experience of the Moss Point plant. It's been doing finishing work on the smaller B model from the beginning.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout can fly twice as long and carry three times more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads than the existing variant. In addition to the two test aircraft, 14 new Fire Scouts are under contract to be built. The Navy's current plan is to buy 30 MQ-8C Fire Scouts. (Post)

-- Speaking of Fire Scouts, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $13.9 million contract for logistics services in support of both the MQ-8B and MQ-8C. This work will be done in Patuxent River, Md., and Pt. Mugu, Calif., and is expected to be completed in November 2014. (Post)

-- Over in Panama City, Fla., at Tyndall Air Force Base, the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron got the last of the QF-4 aerial targets on Nov. 19. The Phantom had been in the “Boneyard" at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., for more than 20 years before being called on for a new role.

The QF-4 serves as a full-scale target for air-to-air weapons system evaluation, development and testing. More than 300 of the Vietnam-era planes were repurposed to serve as drones that can be flown remotely.

Over the years, 250 of the Phantoms have been destroyed over the Gulf of Mexico and the ranges near Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. The QF-4s will eventually be replaced by QF-16s, a remotely piloted version of the venerable Fighting Falcon. (Post)

If you want to learn more about the Tyndall Air Force Base drones, take a look at the September issue of the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor newsletter: New drones a quantum leap. For even more detail on unmanned systems and robotics, take a look at Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor 2013-2014, Chapter V, Unmanned systems/robotics.

Submersible: Lockheed Martin won a $10 million contract to lease the S301i, a commercial dry submersible vessel, to support risk mitigation research for the U.S. Special Operations Command. Work will be done primarily at government facilities in Panama City, Fla. (Post)
Container ships: VT Halter Marine has secured a $350 million contract with Crowley Maritime Corp. to build two container roll-on/roll-off ships in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

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