Saturday, December 28, 2013

Year in review (12/28/13)

It was big news in 2013 when Airbus broke ground on its $600 million A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala., a shovel turning that will forever change the face of the already considerable aerospace activity in this region.

But it was just one of the significant aerospace stories for the Gulf Coast I-10 region. In south Mississippi, Stennis Space Center got a huge feather in its cap when one of the stars of commercial spaceflight, SpaceX, chose the NASA center to test its new generation engine. And over in Northwest Florida, there was significant progress in the F-35 training program at Eglin Air Force Base.

In addition, the region continued to cement its role as a player in unmanned systems/robotics, with a home-grown R&D institute coming in second in an international robotic  competition, Moss Point working on a larger version of the Fire Scout, Camp Shelby starting an unmanned systems R&D program, Okaloosa County considering building an unmanned systems center and Tyndall Air Force Base getting the latest version of a target drone.

Here's the year in review:

Aerospace giant Airbus broke ground in April at the Mobile Aeroplex for its $600 million A320 final assembly line, and also started the hiring process. Eventually 1,000 workers will be at the plant assembling the popular jetliner. Although the process of attracting suppliers will take years, Safran Engineering Services officially opened its office at the Aeroplex the day of the groundbreaking. It will provide engineering services for Airbus.

In June delegates from Mississippi, Alabama and Florida attended the Paris Air Show. The Aerospace Alliance, a group formed to represent the aerospace interests of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, hosted a reception before the show got underway. Alabama and Northwest Florida officials also went to Germany in December for a supplier forum.

The parent company of Airbus, EADS, also made moves in 2013 to change the company, including changing the name to Airbus Group.

The commercial space program kicked into high gear during 2013, and the Gulf Coast region managed to get a piece of the action. Sierra Nevada's first space-bound Dream Chaser spacecraft is being built by Lockheed Martin in New Orleans at Michoud Assembly Facility.

Over at Stennis Space Center, Lockheed Martin also continued to perform work on several satellite systems. The SSC operation does the work on the A2100 satellite systems, which are at the core of several satellite programs.

Also at SSC, one phase of testing for the J-2X ended and a new round got underway. A contractor was also hired for renovation work on the B-2 test stand. But arguably, the most significant event at SSC might have been the decision of SpaceX to test the new generation Raptor engine at SSC. Several other commercial space flight companies are already testing engines at SSC, but SpaceX was the first to have a successful resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Military aviation
The number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., continued to go up during the year since the first one was delivered in July 2011. There were multiple firsts during the year, including the first international student flying the aircraft, the first STOVL mission and the dropping of the first first guided bomb.

But there were also two groundings of the F-35. One was due to a fuel line failure and the other a cracked engine. The weapons checks also continued at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Less than two weeks after the F-22’s 10-year anniversary at Tyndall Air Force Base, the 43rd Fighter Squadron achieved its 25,000th F-22 sortie. Also, the base’s new F-22 Raptor squadron was officially named the 95th Fighter Squadron. Aircraft for the new squadron will start arriving in early 2014. The squadron is an operational unit. Earlier in the year, the arrival of the F-22 operational squadron from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., was delayed from early 2013 to 2014.

Economic development
ST Aerospace, which already has an operation in Mobile, Ala., is apparently interested in establishing another operation in Pensacola, Fla., some 60 miles away. Negotiations are still going on and it's not a done deal quite yet.

Two airports in the region changed leadership during the year. Greg Donovan left Okaloosa Airports to became the head of Pensacola International Airport. Sunil Harman left his post as head of Tallahassee Airport to take over Donovan’s old position in Okaloosa.

There were also some key changes in Mobile. The Mobile Chamber of Commerce said goodbye to long-time leader Win Hallet, who retired. He was replaced by Bill Sisson, who gave up his position at the Mobile Airport Authority to take over the chamber. Roger Wehner became the new head of MAA.

Also during the year, two GE Aviation plants opened in Mississippi and Alabama. The Mississippi plant is in Ellisville, north of Hattiesburg, and the Alabama plant is in Auburn.

Speaking of airports, Pensacola International Airport in the fall welcomed Southwest Airline and its new service to Houston and Nashville. Southwest had actually been at the airport through its earlier acquisition of Airtran.

The Army National Guard is buying 1,522 acres of land to protect Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center in Mississippi from any encroachment. The land is being purchased through the Army Compatible Use Buffer program from Weyerhauser. Camp Shelby, south of Hattiesburg, is the largest state-owned training centers in the nation at some 137,000 acres.

We've all heard a lot about 3D printing, also called additive printing. Over at Stennis Space Center during the year, a part that was made with 3D printing was tested on an engine at one of the SSC test stands.

This region also is home to one of the most capable robotics research operations in the world, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. As the year drew to a close, a team of two dozen people from IHMC came in second in a two-day robotics competition in Miami. It was beaten by a team from Japan owned by Google. Sixteen teams competed, and IHMC outscored every team from the United States, including Carnegie Mellon, MIT, NASA and other internationally known names.

Although it hasn't happened as of this writing, the Federal Aviation Administration is supposed to announce before the end of the year the six drone test sites that will be established to incorporate unmanned aerial vehicles into the nation’s air space. When it happens it will be at the top of anybody's year in review. Getting a test site is bound to be an economic development jewel for the winning locations.

Whether this region gets a drone test site or not, unmanned system activities are continuing. Okaloosa County, Fla., is considering building a $45 million unmanned systems center in Shalimar, just outside Eglin Air Force Base.

Over at Camp Shelby, Miss., a research project was launched that merges unmanned systems with open source software. Officials think the project could end up attracting companies to this part of Mississippi.

And while this didn't happen in the Gulf Coast region, in the Atlantic Ocean during the year the first catapult launch and arrested landing of an X-47B unmanned aerial system on an aircraft carrier is bound to have implications for this region. The company that built that drone, Northrop Grumman, already builds portions of two other drones, Fire Scout and Global Hawk, in Moss Point, Miss. In addition, the Gulf Coast region is where naval aviators receive training. And those are the folks that will one day be impacted by the advancements of unmanned systems.

Speaking of drones, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., marked the first unmanned flight of its new QF-16 target drone in September. The base received its first QF-16, an unmanned version of the Fighting Falcon, in late 2012. The QF-16 eventually will replace the QF-4s, drone versions of the Vietnam-era Phantom.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Week in review (12/15 to 12/21)

A Mobile aerospace company's expansion into Pensacola; 200 helicopter repair jobs in Enterprise; anticipation over the FAA's expected announcement about unmanned aerial system test sites; a high ranking for NASA's Stennis Space Center; and a first for the Dutch with the F-35 were among the aerospace news items of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Here's your week in review:

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward signed a memorandum of understanding with ST Aerospace to expand into the city with an operation at Pensacola International Airport's Commerce Park. It would eventually bring 300 jobs to Pensacola. Hayward said the next step is for the city to enter contract negotiations with company executives, which could take several months.

ST Aerospace has a 1,500-employee maintenance, repair and overhaul operation in Mobile, Ala., where it's been since 1991. The company, part of Singapore Technologies, has been talking to Pensacola about the expansion for 18 months. (Post)

The Pensacola News Journal reported Saturday that the city would build a hangar and other facilities on 18.66 acres of city-owned land at the airport at a cost of $37.34 million. ST Aerospace would lease it for 30 years, with a purchase option at the end of the period. There are also options for additional acres. The company's contribution would not exceed $7.24 million.

Speaking of new operations, Enterprise, Ala., is getting about 200 helicopter maintenance jobs in the next year-and-a-half thanks to Alabama Aircraft Support. It plans to build a $12 million hangar at the Enterprise Municipal Airport.

The company does military and civilian helicopter repair work, and will be located not far from Fort Rucker, home of Army helicopter aviation, and Whiting Field in Milton, Fla., where naval aviators are trained. A formal groundbreaking is next month. (Post)

-- Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is trying to settle on an identity. A study by Market Dynamics Research Group shows many passengers feel the current name is too vague. The findings, part of a six-month branding campaign, were presented to Okaloosa County commissioners this week. Airports Director Sunil Harman expects to present MDRG's recommendations to the board by next summer. (Post)

-- Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport near Panama City, Fla., marked the completion of construction on the new covered parking project that provides nearly 300 covered parking spots. Airport passengers now have three parking options available: covered, short-term and long-term. (Post)

-- Southwest Airlines will add a direct flight from New Orleans to San Diego. The new service at Louis Armstrong International Airport will begin in April. The airline also is starting a non-stop flight to Atlanta in January. Aviation Director Iftikhar Ahmad said the San Diego flight will raise the number of direct flights from New Orleans to 39. (Post)

Economic development officials nationwide are waiting to hear from the Federal Aviation Administration on where it will place research and test sites for unmanned aerial systems. The FAA decision could be worth billions of dollars in economic activity and tens of thousands of new jobs.

Mississippi's site would be at Camp Shelby, near Hattiesburg, where the National Guard has been testing Predator drones for years. That's according to James Poss, a retired Air Force major general who now directs strategic initiatives at the High Performance Computing Collaboratory at Mississippi State University. (Post)

Earlier this month Camp Shelby launched a research program that officials think will help attract companies interested in unmanned systems to South Mississippi and the broader region. The Open Source Unmanned Remote and Autonomous Vehicle Systems program merges unmanned systems and open source software. Camp Shelby has access to nearly 100 square miles of restricted air space and in 2012 was chosen as the regional flight center for the Army National Guard's Unmanned Aircraft System.

-- Northrop Grumman, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center and a team of international science organizations flew a NASA Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system through Canadian airspace as part of a mission to collect environmental data in the Canadian Arctic. Information collected during this flight will be used by American and Canadian scientists to study changes in topography and Arctic ice caps. This flight marks the first time the NASA Global Hawk has flown through Canadian civil airspace. Global Hawk center fuselages are now built in part in Moss Point, Miss., but the NASA versions are earlier variants. (Post)

A survey of best places to work in the federal government shows NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center as second among organizations within large agencies. SSC scored 84.3, up from 84.2 last year.

The Partnership for Public Service's 2013 rankings is based on a survey of 2 million federal employees. It shows NASA ranked number one in the large agency list. NASA scored 74, up from last year's 72.8 and bucking a general trend where federal employees throughout the government are increasingly dissatisfied with the jobs and workplaces. (Post)

-- NASA selected Space Exploration Technologies Corp., SpaceX, of Hawthorne, Calif., to begin negotiations on a lease to use and operate historic Launch Complex 39A at the agency's Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Permitting use of the pad by a private-sector, commercial space partner will ensure its continued viability and allow for its continued use in support of U.S. space activities. SpaceX will be testing its Raptor engine at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Alcoa signed a multi-year supply agreement with Airbus valued at $110 million for value-add titanium and aluminum aerospace forgings. Alcoa will produce the parts using its recently modernized 50,000-ton press in Cleveland, Ohio.

Alcoa will supply titanium parts, including forgings used to connect the wing structure to the engine, for the A320neo. Airbus is building an A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

-- Airbus signed a memorandum of understanding with EGTS International, a joint venture of Safran and Honeywell Aerospace, to further develop an autonomous electric pushback and taxiing solution for the A320 family. EGTS International’s Electric Green Taxiing System is being evaluated as a new option on the A320 family. It would allow the aircraft to push-back from the gate without a tug, taxi-out to the runway, and return to the gate after landing without operating the main engines. (Post)

A Dutch pilot took to the skies in an F-35A, making the Netherlands the second partner country to operate the fifth-generation multirole fighter. Maj. Laurens J.W. Vijge, Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35 Integrated Training Center training lead, completed his first flight after 210 hours of classroom training and 13 flights in the simulators. The Netherlands has two aircraft stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., home of the Integrated Training Center. (Post)

Speaking of F-35 partners, Turkish Aerospace Industries Inc. delivered its first F-35 center fuselage at a Dec. 11 ceremony at TAI's facilities in Ankara, Turkey. It was the first F-35 center fuselage made by TAI as a partner of Northrop Grumman. It will be installed into an Air Force F-35 being built at Lockheed Martin's facilities in Fort Worth, Texas. (Post)

-- The F-35 jet fighter, designed for the Air Force, Navy and Marines, is likely to end up costing more than it would to build separate planes for each service. That's according to a Rand study. But Lockheed Martin's general manager for the F-35 pledged that by 2019, the F-35A will cost $75 million a copy in current dollars, "less than any fourth generation fighter in the world." (Post)

A Beechcraft Bonanza G36 lost power and crashed during the week in a heavily wooded area of southeast Bay County, killing the pilot. No passengers were on board when the plane crashed a mile east of the Sandy Creek Airpark. The victim was Larry Eli Caison, 52, of Destin. The aircraft was registered to Grey Aviation of Destin. (Post)

Pratt and Whitney, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a modification not to exceed $231.5 million for an existing contract for F119 engine sustainment. There are multiple work sites, including Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. … Raytheon Missiles Systems, Tucson Ariz., was awarded a $40 million contract for system improvements of the AIM-120D missile. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBA, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, Orlando, Fla., was awarded a $216.5 million contract and a $232.5 million contract for the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) Baseline Missiles and more. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBJK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity for both awards.

BAE: BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards Alabama LLC, Mobile, Ala., was awarded a $32.9 million contract for the regular maintenance and overhaul of T-AOE 6. Work will be done in Mobile and is expected to be completed by October 2014. (Post)
Contracts: JCON Group, Construction and Design, Miami, Fla.; Orocon -- Carother Joint Venture 1, Oxford, Miss.; Mitchell Industrial Contractors Inc., and Brasfield and Gorrie LLC, a Joint Venture, Madison, Ala.; PentaCon LLC, Catoosa, Okla.; TMG Services Inc., Cleveland, Ohio; and Leebcor Services LLC, Williamsburg, Va., were awarded construction contracts for projects located primarily within the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast area of responsibility. (Post)
LCS 6: The future USS Jackson launched from the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala., last weekend. The ship's christening, a ceremony that marks the official naming of the vessel, is planned for the spring. (Post)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Week in review (12/8 to 12/14)

There were a lot of stories during the week that are of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region, including a Florida group's trip to Germany; more moves by Boeing to shift work from Washington State; Airbus parent EADS' plans to cut 5,800 jobs in Europe; a new unmanned systems research program at Camp Shelby, Miss.; the rollout of the 100th F-35; and the first shipment of an engine parts plant in Ellisville, Miss.

In addition, the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League published the latest issue of its quarterly aerospace newsletter on Tuesday. The 8-page newsletter highlights aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast Interstate 10 region, and I must tell you it's a terrific read. OK, I'm a member of the League so I may be partial. You can get the newsletter by clicking here.

Now for your week in review:

Economic development
Some 30 leaders from five counties in Northwest Florida were in Hamburg, Germany, during the week to pitch the Panhandle to aerospace suppliers. The group, called the Northwest Florida Aerospace Coalition, attended the Coalition-sponsored leadership forum, and toured aerospace facilities, including the Airbus plant in Hamburg.

They heard the same message that was heard in an earlier visit to Hamburg by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson: It will take a long time for European suppliers to commit to setting up shop near the Airbus plant in Mobile. (Post)

-- The newsletter I mentioned above has a feature story about Baldwin County and its aerospace footprint. It's home to a plant owned by the world's 9th largest defense contractor, and it has smaller operations that are looking to expand. (Story)

-- The newsletter also has a story about efforts in Northwest Florida to create "shovel ready" sites for companies that come calling, including aerospace companies. Thirteen sites with a total of nearly 6,200 acres across the Panhandle are now moving towards certification. (Story)

-- Texas-based Bell Helicopter picked Louisiana's Lafayette Regional Airport for a plant that will assemble the company’s new line of Short Light Single (SLS) helicopters. Bell will lease a new $26.3 million, 82,300-square-foot hangar facility at the airport.

Bell will invest $11.4 million in equipment and tooling in the project, which will create 115 direct jobs, and 136 indirect jobs. The SLS is a five-seat, single-engine, turbine helicopter. The decision places another aircraft assembly plant along the Interstate 10 corridor, this one to the west of Baton Rouge. (Post)

Late in the week at Camp Shelby, Miss., a research program was launched that could help attract companies interested in unmanned systems to South Mississippi and perhaps the broader region.

The Open Source Unmanned Remote and Autonomous Vehicle Systems program merges two hot fields: unmanned systems and open source software. It's designed to drive innovation and reduce costs. The program involves the military, Department of Homeland Security and others, including the Open Source Software Institute.

Camp Shelby has access to nearly 100 square miles of restricted air space and currently operates training and testing facilities for a variety of military, government, and other organizations. In 2012 it was chosen as the regional flight center for the Army National Guard's Unmanned Aircraft System.

The research program is based at Camp Shelby and administered in conjunction with the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, DHS, Defense Acquisition University and non-government entities. (Post)

This is just the latest development in this region's involvement in unmanned systems.

Some 80 miles from Camp Shelby at Stennis Space Center, Miss., special forces train with unmanned aerial systems in secluded areas surrounding the NASA facility. And some 90 miles from Camp Shelby in Moss Point, Northrop Grumman builds portions of its Global Hawk and Fire Scout drones.

About 200 miles away from Camp Shelby in Okaloosa County, Fla., efforts are underway to establish a $4.5 million research facility for all types of unmanned systems at a center just outside of Eglin Air Force Base in Shalimar, Fla. The newsletter I mentioned has a feature story about it. (Story)

All of this is especially interesting in light of the pending decision by the Federal Aviation Administration on where to establish six UAS centers that will be used to introduce robotic aircraft into the national airspace.

Airbus parent EADS will cut 5,800 jobs in Europe in a three-year restructuring of its defense and space activities. The restructuring will lead to a substantial consolidation of sites across Germany, France, Spain and the UK, where cuts will be made.

The restructuring coincides with plans to merge the company's defense and space divisions into one unit combining its share of Eurofighter combat jets and Ariane space rockets as the defense industry absorbs government budget cuts.

Airbus is building a 1,000-worker A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

-- The machinists union leadership in Washington State has rejected a "best and final" contract proposal that would ensure Boeing would build its next-generation 777X airliner in the state. The announcement came after the third day of meetings between Boeing and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751.

The talks were the first between the two sides since the union overwhelmingly voted to reject an eight-year contract extension last month. Boeing has been looking at other locations to build the 777X, including Huntsville, Ala. Boeing rival Airbus is building an A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Meanwhile, Boeing plans to restructure its Boeing Research & Technology organization, the company's central R&D unit, through the establishment of research centers in Huntsville, Ala.; Southern California; St. Louis; North Charleston, S.C.; and Seattle.

Huntsville's center will be Simulation and Decision Analytics and Metals and Chemical Technology. BR&T employee totals are expected to grow between 300-400 each in Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina. BR&T jobs in Washington are expected to decrease by 800-1,200, and BR&T jobs in California are expected to decrease by 200-300. (Post)

-- Air Canada will buy up to 109 of Boeing Co's 737 MAX under its narrow-body fleet renewal plan. The agreement will replace Air Canada's existing mainline fleet of Airbus narrow-body aircraft, the carrier said. The deal marks a substantial competitive victory for Boeing over Airbus and a rebound on its home turf after Airbus displaced it at low-cost Mexican airline VivaAerobus in a fierce contest earlier this year. (Post)

Lockheed Martin celebrated the production of its 100th F-35 in an event attended by 2,000 employees and guests. The first 100 planes include 44 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variants, 42 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variants and 14 F-35C carrier variants.

The Department of Defense gets 95 of the first 100 jets from the F-35 assembly line here. Three F-35B aircraft were delivered to the United Kingdom and two F-35As have been delivered to the Netherlands. The 100th aircraft, an F-35A designated AF-41, is the first of 144 F-35s scheduled for delivery to Luke AFB beginning in 2014. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

An Air Force plan to use Blackwater State Forest for training drew a crowd of about 200 to a meeting in Milton, Fla., many of them opposed to the plan. The Air Force said the maneuvers would only be held with monitoring by the Florida Forest Service. But some in the audience criticized that state agency too. (Post)

-- A Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape refresher course is coming February to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The SERE course teaches pilots and service members who are at high risk of capture, the skills to survive, evade, resist and escape while upholding the code of conduct. (Post)

-- The only special operations wing in the Air Force Reserve has a new leader. Col. James Phillips took command of the 919th Special Operations Wing during a ceremony at Duke Field last weekend. Phillips succeeds Col. Anthony Comtois, who left in September to become commander of the Joint Special Operations Air Component for Special Operations Command Africa. (Post)

The newsletter I mentioned earlier has a cover story about John C. Stennis Space Center, and how the decision by SpaceX to use SSC to test its Raptor engine was a big win for the facility. That added another commercial company to SSC's already impressive roster of companies. (Story)

-- A Rocketdyne J-2X engine was tested last week for 325 seconds on the A-2 test stand at Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi. The engine is planned for use on the upper stage of NASA's Space Launch System, which will take astronauts further into space then every before. The J-2X was also tested in early November. (Post)

The Nexcelle joint venture of Safran's Aircelle and GE Aviation's Middle River Aircraft Systems, which is building engine nacelles for the next generation of integrated propulsion systems, marked a key program milestone by shipping its initial major production component: the No. 1 inlet for GE Aviation’s Passport business jet engine. It's also the first element to be completed at the new GE Composites factory in Ellisville, near Hattiesburg.

The Nexcelle air inlet was transported from Ellisville to GE Aviation's Peebles Test Operation in Ohio, where it will be integrated with a Passport engine for propulsion system icing testing in Canada. Nexcelle was created 2008, and supplies the nacelle systems for the Passport for Bombardier's Global 7000 and Global 8000 business aircraft and the CFM International LEAP-1C on COMAC’s C919 airliner. (Post)

Circle City Telcom Inc., Ala., was awarded a $7.9 million contract to complete the installation and testing of upgrades to the information technology infrastructure at Fort Rucker, Ala. Estimated completion date is Dec. 11, 2014. Work will be performed at Fort Rucker. Army Contracting Command, Rock Island Arsenal Rock Island, Ill., is the contracting activity. Fort Rucker is a center for Army aviation training. (Post)

Edenzon: Irwin F. Edenzon, corporate vice president and president of Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., will retire on Dec. 1, 2014. (Post)
Academy: Jackson County, Miss., supervisors hired a grant administrator, engineer and architect for a basic skills training annex addition on Ingalls Shipbuilding's Haley Reeves Barbour Maritime Training Academy in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)
Contract: Sechan Electronics Inc., Lititz, Pa., was awarded a $17.2 million contract for procurement of the Target Detecting Device MK 71 Mod 1 to support the Quickstrike Mine Improvement program. The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity (Post)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Week in review (12/1 to 12/7)

Alabama officials are busy putting together a proposal they hope will convince aerospace giant Boeing to put a 777X plant in north Alabama's Huntsville. The state, which already has a $600 million Airbus final assembly line being built in Mobile, Ala., thinks it has a lot going in its favor, from being a right-to-work state to having a large technical workforce in Huntsville.

This all began when a union in Washington State rejected overwhelmingly a contract proposal submitted by Boeing that included labor concessions. The vote wasn't even close. Right after that, Boeing said it would now have to look elsewhere for a place to build the 777X.

States are putting billions in incentives on the table. Alabama, which came up with $158.5 million to sweeten the deal for Airbus, hasn't said what it's willing to pay to get a Boeing aircraft plant. The other states in the running are Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington State.

The deadline for proposals is Tuesday.

Boeing is already the largest aerospace company in the state, where it's had a presence for more than 50 years. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley met with Boeing officials to discuss building the 777X in Alabama. The company has already said some engineering work on the 777X will be done in Huntsville, and it also owns 300 acres at Huntsville International Airport. (Post)

But a history lesson may be in order.

This is not the first time Alabama has thrown itself into competition to attract a Boeing aircraft plant. A decade ago Boeing put out word that it was looking for a place to build its revolutionary 7E7, a brand-new aircraft that eventually was designated the 787. The contest was open to any location that wanted to pitch a proposal.

A lot of states, including Alabama, jumped at the chance. Boeing hired McCallum Sweeney Consulting of Greenville, S.C., to conduct the search. Back then it was Mobile, Ala., that was in the running. One of the requirements from Boeing was access to a port, since a lot of major pieces of the plane would be shipped in other locations.

More than 80 proposals came in, and Mobile ended up being a finalist. Other sites given serious consideration were Charleston, S.C., Harlingen, Texas, Savannah, Ga., and Tulsa, Okla.

But in the end Washington State won after lawmakers there came up with billions in incentives. That was welcome news for the Seattle area, which was still getting over the move of Boeing headquarters to Chicago in 2001.

The takeaway for those competing now is that even with Washington's generous incentives, the state was still the highest-cost option among the 7E7 finalists, according to a March 2004 Site Selection article. But it was close enough that Everett won the competition.

In Everett, Boeing wouldn't face handing a new plane and a new system to an untried location and workforce. It had 18,000 experienced workers and infrastructure. That made the savings elsewhere too small to justify the risk at a new site, according to Site Selection.

And Boeing needed to have some sure things in place with this plane. It would be the first-ever commercial jet with most of its primary structure made of composites. It was also Boeing's first plane built with modular construction, with huge chunks globally outsourced.

A lot has changed in the world since 2003, but one thing that hasn't is that Washington State remains one of the costliest places to build planes. The unions have continued to show might, having an impact on Boeing business decision.

But Boeing now has experience setting up a new plant with an untried workforce when it opened a $750 million Dreamliner plant in Charleston, S.C. The union moved to scuttle that plant when it complained to the National Labor Relations Board, but changed its mind after Boeing raised wages and expanded jet production in Washington State.

Some think the entire exercise in 2003 was designed to get concessions from Washington State and the unions, and that this new competition is more of the same. But it's more likely that Boeing is really interested in weighing its options, and would bolt if the business case is strong enough. If you think Washington State is irreplaceable, look what happened to the auto industry.

The chances are good Boeing will keep production in Washington State. But a smart Boeing is also thinking strategically, and will know that in the long run it has to lower costs to compete not only with Airbus, but other companies that one day will build competing aircraft. Indeed, there may come a day when Boeing and Airbus will work together on a future aircraft.

Perhaps they should each have a production facility in Alabama. Stranger things have happened.

The Alabama group that went to Germany for the Aviation Forum is back home. Led by Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, the delegation included Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who spoke before the audience of 300 at the forum.

One of the messages Stimpson brought back to Mobile was to be patient, it will take time for Airbus suppliers to come to the region.

The South Alabama group included representatives from the City of Mobile, Mobile County Commission, Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, Mobile Airport Authority, Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, Alabama State Docks and Alabama Power.

Another group from Northwest Florida, the Gulf Coast Aerospace Coalition, formed by Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton and Bay counties, also attended the forum. That group will be hosting the International Aerospace Industry Forum for Northwest Florida Leadership in Hamburg Sunday through Wednesday.

-- If you're interested in advanced manufacturing and the way science and technology changes our world, this item is for you. It has implications that we can only begin to imagine, and it's likely to impact operations at Mobile's Airbus A320 assembly line at some point.

Airbus signed an agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore using digital manufacturing. Airbus will evaluate how the technique being developed at MIT can be applied to the design and construction of aerospace vehicles.

Digital material technology is based on the idea that a complex structure can be built by assembling a simple set of components. When the parts developed by MIT are assembled, much like snap-together building blocks, the resulting structure is lightweight, durable and easy to disassemble and reassemble.

The technique could lead to lighter aircraft and lower construction and assembly cost.

Airbus is also exploring the use of 3D digital printing of some parts or potentially larger airframe structures. We already had a test at Stennis Space Center, Miss., that used a 3D printed part. (Post)

-- Airbus Americas is seeking candidates for an aircraft conformity manager for the A320 final assembly line under construction in Mobile. Minimum requirements include an associate/technical degree. Successful candidates must have at least five years of experience in in aircraft inspection, configuration management or quality management. (Post)

-- Airbus is in front of Boeing in the first 11 months of the year in the number of orders that have been placed. Airbus has received 1,373 orders since January, more than 100 better than Boeing's 1,212 orders, according to data from the companies. But after cancellations, Airbus logged 1,314 net orders.

Boeing remained ahead on deliveries, which drive revenue and are the most widely used benchmark for ranking the top two jetmakers. It delivered 580 planes compared with 562 from Airbus and looked on course to maintain the industry's No.1 spot for a second year when full 2013 data is released in January. (Post)

-- As expected, Kuwait Airways signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Airbus to buy 15 A320neo and 10 A350-900 planes and an option on 10 more planes. The deal also calls for the company to lease seven A320 and five A330-200s. Kuwait Airways signed a letter of acceptance for the deal in May. (Post)

At the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., officials during the week celebrated the start of production of the first of five NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) Global Hawks.

NATO is acquiring the system, which will provide near real-time surveillance, with 15 participating nations: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States.

The company's industrial team includes EADS Deustchland GmbH (Cassidian), Selex ES and Kongsberg, as well as leading defense companies from all participating nations. The Moss Point facility also does finishing work on the B and C models of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. (Post)

-- The Naval Research Laboratory demonstrated the launch of an all-electric, fuel cell-powered, unmanned aerial system from a submerged submarine. The eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System (XFC UAS) was fired from USS Providence’s torpedo tube using a Sea Robin launch vehicle system, which fits within a Tomahawk launch canister used for launching cruise missiles.

Once deployed, the Sea Robin and XFC rose to the surface where it appeared as a spar buoy, then XFC vertically launched from Sea Robin and flew a successful several hour mission demonstrating live video capabilities streamed back to Providence (SSN 719). The XFC later landed at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center, Andros, Bahamas.

NRL has a detachment at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

-- Amazon got attention last weekend when it said it may one day deliver packages by drone, and while there are a lot of hurdles, at least one drone maker thinks the attention will help.

Charles Easterling, CEO of Crescent Unmanned Systems, helped found the drone startup in 2010 at Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans. The company's Bravo 300, an unmanned aerial system is designed to carry surveillance cameras, is being marketed to police departments and the military.

But recently Easterling started getting calls about potential commercial uses, and that's likely to continue because of the buzz over Amazon deliveries. Plans are to finish development of its drone at a testing ground in Utah this month. (Post)

The F-35 program at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., reached a new single-day record for sorties during the week with 45 training missions for all three variants of the jet fighter. The Marine F-35B variant completed 32 of the flights, the Air Force F-35A had 10 flights and the Navy F-35C flew three missions. (Post)

-- The first operational F-35As will be based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the service announced Tuesday. Hill was selected because of its location near training ranges and because the base is home to the F-35 depot. Hill is home to the active-duty 388th Fighter Wing and the reserve 419th Fighter Wing, and will be flown by both components. Construction on the base will start immediately, with F-35s arriving beginning in 2015. (Post)

The Vermont National Guard is also scheduled to get F-35s, 18 of them to be precise, by 2020. They will be based at Burlington International Airport. Air Guard Col. David Baczewski said most likely the pilots will go to Eglin for training. (Post)

The Air Force may have to cut funding for research and development unless Congress reverses across the board spending cuts, according to Lt. Gen. Charles Davis. The No. 2 Air Force acquisition official made the comment at a conference hosted by Credit Suisse.

He said Pentagon leaders are determined to protect funding in new technologies, but the Air Force would have to cut funding to ensure the readiness of its forces if sequestration remains. The Pentagon is bracing for additional mandatory cuts in fiscal 2014, but lawmakers are working on a budget deal that could ease the extent of those cuts.

Any cuts in Air Force R&D funding might have an impact on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where aerial weapons are developed, tested and evaluated. R&D expenditures at Eglin hit $601.1 million in fiscal year 2013, a drop from the previous year. (Post)

A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla., during the week, marking the first successful SpaceX launch of a commercial satellite. The mission is SpaceX's first to a high geostationary transfer orbit needed for commercial satellites. The mission was delayed two previous times because of technical issues.

The $100 million satellite is owned by a Luxembourg company, SES. The company had previously used European Ariane rockets or the Russian Proton for its satellite launches. SpaceX, which has successfully resupplied the International Space Station, also wants to enter the $190 billion a year commercial satellite launch industry. SpaceX will test its Raptor methane rocket engine at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin has completed on-orbit testing of the second Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellite and handed over spacecraft operations to the U.S. Navy. The handover also includes acceptance of three MUOS ground stations that will relay voice and high-speed data signals for mobile users worldwide.

MUOS-2 was launched July 19, 2013 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The system improves secure communications, delivering simultaneous and prioritized voice, video and data for the first time to users on the move. Work on the core propulsion system for the MUOS, an A2100 satellite-based spacecraft, is done by Lockheed Martin at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Economic development
Escambia County, Fla., approved the purchase of 601 acres in Santa Rosa County that will be developed as a helicopter training site. Plans are to eventually swap that land with the Navy for a 640-acre Outlying Field 8 in Escambia County's Beulah.

The land in Santa Rosa will be purchased from RMS Timberlands. It's appraised at $1.88 million. The county commission wants to close on the RMS land deal by Dec. 31. Escambia County wants use the current OLF 8, adjacent to the Navy Federal Credit Union campus, for a commerce park. (Post)

M1 Support Services LP, Denton, Texas, was awarded a $38,722,328 firm-fixed-price contract for advanced instructor pilot support services for the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, 110TH Aviation Brigade Support at Fort Rucker, Ala. Work will be performed in Alabama with an estimated completion date of Dec. 12, 2017. (Post)

Ingalls: Huntington Ingalls Industries, Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $39 million modification to previously awarded contract for life cycle engineering and support services on the Amphibious Transport Dock Ship Program LPD 17 class. Work will be done in Pascagoula and is expected to be completed by December 2014. (Post)
Jacobs: Jacobs Technology Inc., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded an $11.3 million task order under the previously awarded General Services Administration Alliant Multiple Award contract for information technology services. (Post)
Austal: Austal USA, Mobile, Ala., was awarded an $8.2 million modification to previously awarded contract to exercise an option for littoral combat ship (LCS) core class services. Work will be done in Mobile (60 percent) and Pittsfield, Mass. (40 percent), and is expected to be complete by November 2014. (Post)