Saturday, February 22, 2014

Week in review (2/16 to 2/22)

The president of the International Association of Machinists union sounded a pretty positive note to The Street when he spoke about that union's hope to organize the Airbus plant in Alabama and Boeing plant in South Carolina.

"I really believe we have a fair chance of pulling this off," said Tom Buffenbarger, president of the IAM. "Our union was founded in the South (and) we already have thousands of members in Alabama."

As far as Airbus is concerned, employees have the right to choose representation if they want it. The company is building an A320 final assembly line at Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley that will open in 2015 and deliver its first aircraft in 2016. It will eventually have 1,000 workers. Whether it will have a union remains to be seen. (Post)

But Buffenbarger’s optimism isn't without reason. Alabama is a right-to-work state, just like its neighbors. But it's far more unionized than its neighbors. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released last month, Alabama's union membership in 2013 was 10.7 percent of the workforce, a bit below the U.S. average of 11.3 percent. If the number of workers represented by unions is considered, the number goes to 11.7 percent.

That's far and away above Mississippi's 3.7 percent union membership, Georgia's 5.3 percent, Florida's 5.4 percent or Tennessee's 6.1 percent. And South Carolina, where the union wants to try again at the Boeing plant? Union membership in 2013 was the same as Mississippi's, 3.7 percent.

The BLS points out that union membership rates declined between 2012 and 2013 in 26 states, rose in 22 states and the District of Columbia, and remained unchanged in two states. Alabama and South Carolina were among the states where union membership increased.

-- In other Airbus-related news, Chinese low-cost carrier Spring Airlines plans to order up to 30 Airbus A320s worth $3 billion. Reuters reported that the airline hopes to divide the order between the current model and the A320neo. Shanghai-based Spring, which has a fleet of 40 A320s, is the largest dedicated budget carrier in China. (Post)

-- The Mobile City Council during the week OKd the last city-related road contracts associated with the redevelopment of the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. Under the $1.4 million deal, Gulf Equipment Corp. will make improvements to Baker Street, a link between the Alabama state docks and the assembly plant. Some $20 million in taxpayer investment has been spent improving Aeroplex roads ahead of the plant's 2015 opening. (Post)

-- Herbert Meisler was elected chairman of the Mobile Airport Authority's board of directors. He succeeds Richard Davis, who retired after serving in that position for 14 years. The MAA, which overseas Mobile Regional Airport and Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, also appointed W. Lance Covan
and Michael Pierce to the board. (Post)

Economic development
Pensacola and Escambia County officials are going back to the drawing board to decide how to split $8 million in incentives needed to seal the deal on an aircraft maintenance facility proposed for Pensacola International Airport. The initial agreement called for the county to contribute $4.8 million and loan the city another $3.2 million to be repaid by 2020. Now commissioners want the city to contribute more. ST Aerospace, which has an operation in Mobile, Ala., wants to establish a facility in Pensacola on nearly 19 acres of city-owned land at the airport. (Post)

-- Boeing during the week made official what it already promised. The company said Everett, Wash., will be the site of a new composite wing center for the 777X. Boeing agreed to build the 777X in Everett following the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751 approval of an eight-year contract extension in January. As part of the deal Boeing agreed to place the wing center in the Puget Sound region. It will go north of the 777X assembly site. The union vote came after Boeing started looking elsewhere for sites, including Alabama, to build the plane. (Post)

Two F-35Bs flew in formation while in short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) mode for the first time recently at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The pilots flew the test jets in STOVL mode with the F-35B LiftFan engaged and engine rotated downward. The mission measured the effects the aircraft had on each other to ensure they can operate in formation safely in an operational environment. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the F-35 training center. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $9.6 million modification to a previously awarded F-35 Low Rate Initial Production Lot VI contract during the week. It provides for Netherlands-specific, non-recurring sustainment activities to include procurement of Autonomic Logistics Information Systems equipment and logistics support for non-recurring engineering activities. Work is expected to be completed in April 2015. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. (Post)

Engine testing at the Rolls-Royce Outdoor Jet Engine Testing Facility has been going nearly nonstop since the ceremonial ribbon was cut in October. The test stand, the company's second at this South Mississippi NASA facility, represents a $50 million investment. Rolls-Royce is still filling the last of the 35 jobs the new test stand created. The first stand at Stennis opened in 2007. (Post)

In another Rolls-Royce matter, the company was awarded a contract for $182.7 million by the Air Force to expand the company's support of the C-130J transport fleet. The contract covers sustainment services for the Rolls-Royce AE 2100 engines as well as nacelles and propellers on the C-130J fleet. Rolls-Royce now provides C-130J support at 10 Air Force bases in the U.S. and two overseas. (Post)

Sikorsky during the week announced the award of a $110 million maintenance and support services contract for more than 360 aircraft operated by the Texas-based Chief of Naval Air Training. The work is expected to be completed in October 2014.

Aircraft covered by the contract include the single-engine T-34, twin engine T-44A and T-44C, and single-engine T-6A and T-6B. Work will be performed at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., NAS Whiting Field, Fla., NAS Corpus Christi, Texas; and seven satellite locations throughout the United States.

The contract was awarded by the Naval Air Systems Command, Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Sikorsky is a subsidiary of United Technologies, which also operates an aircraft service center in Foley, Ala. (Post)

-- The University of Pittsburgh launched a Warrior Human Performance Research Center at Hurlburt Field, Fla., to conduct performance-optimization and injury-prevention research. The lab with the Air Force Special Operations Command brings the 8-year-old program to a third military branch. It already has sites at three Naval Special Warfare SEALs operations, including Stennis Space Center, Miss., and at one Army Special Operations post. The Warrior Human Performance Research Centers help to design physical-training programs to improve performance and reduce injury. (Post)

-- The U.S. Navy DoD Supercomputing Resource Center at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., is adding more computer power to its operation. Starting in August, the new $21.8-million computers from Cray Inc. will be put to work performing large-scale scientific calculations for Department of Defense researchers around the county. The Navy DSRC is one of five supercomputing centers established by the DoD. (Post)

-- J.D. Lord, the contractor who died in an accident on base last month, entered the foam-filled airplane hangar against the advice of emergency personnel, according to an Air Force report. The 31-year-old and three co-workers wanted to see the foam that filled the massive King Hangar during an accidental activation of the fire-suppression system, the report said. The foam was dispensed after cold temperatures caused a water line to burst, flooding sensors in the hangar’s fire-suppression system and accidentally triggering the release of the high-expansion foam. (Post)

-- Army Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum was nominated for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general and assignment as deputy commanding general/chief of staff, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. Mangum is currently the commanding general, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, Fort Rucker, Ala. (Post)

-- Twelve airmen graduated from the Undergraduate Air Battle Manager training program in a ceremony Feb.19 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The students completed a nine-month course to prepare for duty aboard the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System and the E-8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System aircraft. (Post)

-- Keesler Medical Center earned its second consecutive Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star Award. Brig. Gen. Kory Cornum, 81st Medical Group commander, presented the 2013 award to facility manager Michael Chatham, 81st Medical Support Squadron, at a Feb. 11 executive staff meeting. The energy-conservation elements were incorporated during construction following the August 2005 Hurricane Katrina. (Post)

The first of eight Orbital Sciences' cargo missions to the International Space Station was successfully completed. The Cygnus spacecraft completed a 37-day stay at the orbiting laboratory, then re-entered Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean during the week. Orbital Sciences has a $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. The company's Antares launch vehicles is powered by engines tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

-- A University of Southern Mississippi project hopes to get a step closer to seeing if an Earth-born organism can live on Mars. USM Professor Scott Milroy learned his NASA-funded "Pioneering Mars" project was selected for payload integration aboard the International Space Station.

Milroy's project is one of two chosen from the NASA ISS National Laboratory Education Project for transport to the ISS sometime in 2015. Milroy notes that while many of the physical, chemical, and climatic conditions of Mars can be simulated in an Earth-bound laboratory, the capability to maintain living cultures, like the blue-green algae in this experiment, in reduced gravity conditions can only be explored on the ISS. Milroy is an associate professor of marine science. (Post)

With high-tech science and technology jobs expected to grow at a faster pace than other occupations, South Mississippi is embarking on a key project that should help ensure it can satisfy the growing need. The Mississippi Enterprise for Technology, a business incubator and tech transfer operation at NASA's Stennis Space Center, is conducting a project that will result in a "roadmap" of STEM employment in South Mississippi. (Post)

-- A retired Boeing 737 took center stage for a time early in the week when the 300-foot long fuselage was hauled from Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley to the Mobile Fire-Rescue Training Center. The fuselage will be used as a classroom for specialized training in aircraft rescue and fire fighting, medial and mass casualty situations. (Post)

EADS-NA, Herndon, Va., was awarded a $22.9 million modification to a contract to acquire four UH-72A Lakota helicopters with engine inlet barrier filters and ARC-231 radios. Work will be done in Columbus, Miss., Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Ala., is the contracting activity.

Port: The Port of Pensacola in Florida struck a deal with a company that promised 100 jobs. Offshore Inland will be leasing an empty warehouse and building on adjacent property to in order to manufacture flexible pipes. (Post)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Week in review (2/9 to 2/15)

It was a pretty busy week for the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor: Airbus started its search for hourly workers for the final assembly line in Mobile, Ala.; a new component repair facility was unveiled at Mobile Regional Airport; Airbus Group said it will provide its own financial services to customers and suppliers; Stennis Space Center released figures showing its global economic impact is up; a move to attract an ST Aerospace operation to Pensacola, Fla., inches forward; and the arrival of more F-22s at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., were among the stories of interest during the week.

Here's your week in review:

Airbus is hiring for the first wave of hourly manufacturing jobs at its A320 final assembly line being built at Alabama's Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. The open positions include aircraft structure/installation mechanics, installers for aircraft cabin furnishings and aircraft electricians.

Starting hourly pay rates range from $13 to $22 plus benefits based on skills, experience and education. All positions require a minimum of a high school diploma/GED and at least five years' experience in aircraft maintenance. The $600 million plant will come online in 2015 and eventually employ 1,000 workers. (Post)

Because that assembly line will be building A320s, anything about the popular line of aircraft is of interest to Mobile. During the week, Airbus finalized a deal with Vietnamese low-cost airline VietJetAir for a fleet of its single aisle A320 aircraft. It's a firm order for 63 aircraft and purchase rights for another 30. The airline will also lease eight more A320 family aircraft from third-party leasers. VietJetAir currently operates 11 leased A320s. (Post)

It's not just Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley where Airbus is active.

A new 7,500-square-foot component repair facility at Mobile Regional Airport was unveiled during the week by Airbus Group's North American military aircraft unit. It's in addition to the existing 30,000-square-foot maintenance, repair and overhaul delivery center. New services include hydraulic, avionics, composite and structural repairs, painting, component exchange and highly skilled engineering support. Airbus Group’s North American military aircraft unit was founded in Virginia in 1984, but relocated to Mobile in 2005. (Post)

With all the talk in this region about Airbus suppliers, this item should be of interest. Airbus Group plans to create an in-house bank by taking over Salzburg Muenchen Bank from the Raiffeisenverband Salzburg cooperative for an undisclosed sum. The deal still needs German regulatory approvals.

A banking license would give Airbus direct access to European Central Bank money supply. The new organization will be renamed Airbus Group Bank, and could provide Airbus flexibility to aid suppliers, some of whom have struggled to finance investments to keep pace as the planemaker increases output to record levels. (Post)

Speaking of suppliers, two years after beginning production, NORDAM has shipped the 70,000th cabin window assembly for the Airbus A320. NORDAM, of Tulsa, Okla., since 2012 has been the original equipment manufacturer of cabin window assemblies for the A320, including the A318, A319, A320 and A321, as well as the ACJ business jet. (Post)

Economic development
NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., had a global impact in 2013 of $940 million, up from the previous year's $882 million. It also had a direct impact of $619 million on the local economy in a 50-mile radius, down from the $682 million in 2012. SSC, best known for rocket engine testing, has 41 resident agencies and 5,000 total employees at its site near the Louisiana state line.  (Post)

-- The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition will more than double its downtown Pensacola, Fla., research space by adding a three-story, 30,000-square-foot addition and expanding and renovating the existing building. Construction for the $8 million project is expected to begin in April, with the building to open in 2015. (Post)

-- City of Pensacola and Escambia County have agreed on how to split the $8 million cost for bringing an ST Aerospace aircraft maintenance facility to Pensacola International Airport. The county would pay $4.8 million and would loan $3.2 million to the city. ST Aerospace also has a 1,500-employee operation in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Northrop Grumman and the Navy successfully flew the second MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter for the first time this month. It happened at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu, Calif. The flight will allow the team to ramp up testing efforts to prepare the system for operations, including ship-based flights this summer.

The MQ-8C uses a Bell 407 and will eventually replace the much smaller MQ-8B, which uses a Schweizer (now Sikorsky) airframe. The MQ-8C is larger, has a longer range and payload capacity. Both Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

-- Air Force crews flew MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers from Creech Air Force Base, Nev., using repurposed commercial satellites during missions in November and December. The big deal here is that the satellites were in an inclined orbit, which happens when it lacks the fuel to maintain a fixed geostationary orbit and drift into slightly wobbling orbits.

A team with the 53rd Test Management Group, which falls under the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., successfully demonstrated using a wobbling satellite for MQ-1 and MQ-9 unmanned systems.

To use wobbling satellites, the dish must be able to move, unlike the fixed dish of satellite television providers. MQ-1 and MQ-9 programs have integrated the satellite tracking software and the 53rd Wing developed procedures for continuously updating the satellite tracking data needed.

Air Combat Command's latest lease for continental United States commercial SATCOM includes four inclined orbit SATCOM lines at about 50 percent savings over a typical lease. (Post)

The RS-25 engine, highly successful as the Space Shuttle Main Engine, is preparing for a new life with the Space Launch System. Testing at SSC will initially focus on a new Main Engine Controller (MEC) and the ability to accommodate the full range of propellant conditions in its new configuration with the SLS launch vehicle.. SSC engineers have been installing a 7,755-pound thrust frame adapter for the A-1 test stand in order to testing the RS-25s. The first engine on the stand will be 0525. The engine never flew in space, as it was one of two development engines used for component testing on Stand A-2 to support shuttle flights. The other was 0528. (Post)

-- A test article of the stage adapter that will connect the Orion spacecraft to a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket for Exploration Flight Test-1 aced structural loads testing last month in Huntsville, Ala. The adapter will be shipped in mid-March to ULA's facility in Decatur, Ala., where the Delta IV is being built. It will then travel by ship to Cape Canaveral, Fla., ahead of Orion's inaugural flight in September. (Post)

Air Force Reserve Command's 44th Fighter Group and Air Combat Command's 49th Fighter Wing, both from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., delivered five F-22 Raptors to Tyndall AFB during the week. The Raptors are now assigned to Tyndall to be operated by the integrated 301st Fighter Squadron and 95th FS. The 301st FS is a detachment of the 44th FG. The transfer of the jets is part of the 24 Raptors that are anticipated to be here by April and become combat ready in the summer. (Post)

-- Britain is expected to order 14 F-35 fighters in a $5 billion deal that may not be finalized until next month, sources told Reuters during the week. The deal includes fuel, hangars, training and operational support for the jets. Meanwhile, the United States had been expected to order 42 jets in fiscal 2015, up from 29 in fiscal 2014. But budget cuts will force the Pentagon to scale back, according to the sources. The expectation is that the fiscal 2015 budget request will call for three to six fewer F-35s than expected. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

Northrop Grumman appointed Thomas P. Mendez, Jr., vice president and controller of its Aerospace Systems sector. Mendez will be responsible for financial planning and analysis; financial reporting and accounting; budgets, rates and overhead management; government relations and compliance; resource management; and property administration for the sector. The Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center, Moss Point, Miss., is in the Aerospace Systems sector. (Post)

-- Rolls-Royce completed a long-term agreement with Lockheed Martin worth up to $1 billion to deliver about 600 engines to power future C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. The agreement secures the Rolls-Royce AE 2100 as the engine for all variants of the C-130J to 2025. (Post)

-- Camber Corp., Huntsville, Ala., has been awarded a $22.2 million 15-month contract by Battelle to provide program management and systems engineering and technical assistance to the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps of Engineers' Engineering Research Development Center –Topographic Engineering Center will benefit from the work. Most of the work will be done in Colorado Springs, Colo., Fort Belvoir, Va., and Edgewood, Md., but one of the other work locations is Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Post)

The 96th Operations Group at Eglin Air Force Base conducted boat operations in Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico during the week, and will do so again this coming week. The operations are part of the 53rd Wing's Weapon System Evaluation Program, and involves fighter aircraft using the boats as targets. (Post)

Meanwhile, Duke Field, Fla., and several roads were scheduled to be closed first on Friday, then on Saturday due to Eglin's test mission. But all of that was canceled when the plane that was participating in the mission had mechanical problems. (Post)

-- Improvements are coming to Mobile Regional Airport in the coming months. The most immediate changes will be upgraded signage in the rental car lot, but the big shift begins in mid-April when all of the airport’s rental car and airline ticket counters will be remodeled. (Post)

Oasis Systems LLC, Lexington, Mass., and COLSA Corp., Huntsville, Ala., each was awarded a $55.7 million modification for an existing contract for technical and acquisition management support services. Work in both cases will be performed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and is expected to be completed by Feb. 28, 2015. Air Force Test Center/PZZ, Eglin AFB, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $16.8 million bilateral modification for an existing contract for engineering change proposal, follow-on agile sustainment for the F-22 Raptor, Reliability and Maintainability Maturation Program Project AF100 Acceleration Plan. Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., is home of F-22 training and an operational F-22 squadron. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $6.5 million contract for maintenance and logistics services in support of the KC-130J aircraft for the government of Kuwait under the Foreign Military Sales Program.

HII: Bath Iron Works, Maine, Bollinger Shipyards, Lockport, La., and Eastern Shipbuilding, Panama City, Fla., were awarded first phase contracts in a $12 billion Coast Guard ship program. Huntington Ingalls Industries, with shipyards in Newport News, Va., and Pascagoula, Miss., was shut out. (Post)
VT Halter: VT Halter Marine in Escatawpa, Miss., launched the ocean-going articulated tug barge Denise A. Bouchard during the week. (Post)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Week in review (2/2 to 2/8)

Before we get to the week in review, permit me a sidebar. As I've mentioned before, we're slowly adding associated news digests from other aerospace regions in the Southeast to our lineup.

The newest one covers Northeast Florida from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, then up the coast of Georgia to South Carolina. That region made sense, in part because Embraer, Gulfstream and Boeing all have operations there.

If you're interested in seeing each of the aerospace news feeds, go to Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor; Huntsville Region Aerospace and Defense; Central Mississippi/Golden Triangle; and Northeast Florida Aerospace and Defense. All the feeds are or will be available at Gulf Coast Aerospace

Now for the week in review:

Economic development
Space Florida, the state's aerospace economic development agency, is talking to Pensacola officials about establishing an operation at the now-vacant nine-acre downtown Technology Park. Space Florida and the park's owner, the Pensacola Industrial Development Corp., have a memorandum of understanding.

Plans are for a multi-tenant building for tenants that would require some 65,000 to 75,000 square feet of space. No names have been divulged, but the proposed anchor tenant would be a leading aerospace company from the region. Other tenants would be academic and economic development service providers. (Post)

The significance of Space Florida's involvement is hard to overstate. The agency is a key player in bringing additional aerospace activities to Florida. It's been involved in the reuse of a NASA facility at Kennedy Space Center, spending up to $4 million to overhaul Orbiter Processing Facilities 1 and 2 at KSC for a new tenant. The tenant hasn't been identified, but the thinking is will be the Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. (2013 Post)

Space Florida was also involved in efforts to land one of the six FAA drone test site locations (2012 Post), and before that was instrumental in getting Boeing to consolidate its CST-100 Commercial Crew program office and manufacturing operations to KSC. Boeing is using Orbiter Processing Facility 3. (2011 Post)

What's particularly significant here is not only getting Space Florida involved in a project in Northwest Florida, but having that happen in a city that is seeing a renaissance of its downtown. The park is located just south of where Interstate 110 feeds into downtown. The site is also just two blocks from the internationally known Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and its scientists and technicians.

An Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-26 engine tested at NASA's E-1 test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss., last month is undergoing post-test inspections and flight prep activities. When that work is done, it will be shipped to NASA's Wallops Fight Test Center in Virginia for integration with Orbital Sciences' Antares medium-class space launch vehicle.

"Each test of an AJ26 engine is exciting and affirming because it is in direct support of NASA's commercial space flight efforts, as well as a continuation of a very successful Stennis partnership with Orbital and Aerojet Rocketdyne," said Stennis Director Rick Gilbrech. NASA has tested AJ-26 engines at SSC since November 2010. (Post)

In another item out of Stennis Space Center, the NASA center presented its highest honor for quality and performance, the Contractor Excellence Award, to A2Research and Jacobs Technology for outstanding contributions to the missions of the center. A2Research, which has managed a laboratory services contract at SSC since 2010, received the small business award. Jacobs, which has performed the Facility Operating Services Contract at SSC since 2007, received the large business award. The awards were established in 2008. (Post)

Airbus has posted three new job positions for its A320 final assembly line in Mobile, Ala. It’s looking for a supply chain surveillance coordinator, an information technology manager and multiple IT specialists to form the team establishing and supporting the computer systems and networks for the assembly line. The plant is currently being built at Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley, and aircraft production is expected to begin in 2015. The FAL will eventually have 1,000 workers. (Post)

Military aircraft
The Navy version of the F-35 has passed the first round of tests of its tailhook, the part of the plane that makes traditional carrier arrested landings possible. CF-3, the first F-35C to be fitted with the redesigned Arresting Hook System, had 36 successful arrested landing tests on land. For the next few months it will undergo field-based ship suitability tests. Carrier flight trials will be in October aboard the USS Nimitz. Eglin Air Force Base is home of the F-35 training center; naval aviators begin their training at Naval Air Station Pensacola and Naval Air Station Whiting Field, in Milton, Fla. (Post)

Another new warplane, the newly minted AC-130J Ghostrider, took to the skies for the first time as a gunship Jan. 31 over Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. More than a year earlier, the Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130J arrived to begin the modification.

The end result became a C-130 model with the flying proficiencies of the MC-130J and the combat capabilities of an AC-130. Converting a mobility aircraft into a strike aircraft meant adding the Precision Strike Package, which includes dual electro-optical infrared sensors, a 30-mm cannon, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, all-weather synthetic aperture radar and GBU-39 small diameter bomb capabilities.

The sensors allow the gunship to visually or electronically identify friendly ground forces and targets at any time, even in adverse weather. A total of 32 MC-130J aircraft will be modified for AFSOC as part of a $2.4 billion AC-130J program. (Post)

Meanwhile, another military aircraft didn't have it so good. A QF-4 drone crashed on White Sands National Monument at the end of the week while on a routine training mission. The cause of the crash, four to five miles west of Runway 22, is unknown.

The monument west of Alamogordo was closed in advance of the test mission and will remain closed until further notice. The drone was assigned to Detachment 1, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, a tenant unit at Holloman assigned to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group. The 82nd ATRS is part of the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, which falls under the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., is home to both QF-4s and QF-16s. (Post)

In Florida, Pensacola International Airport is getting $14 million in funding from the state to support efforts to establish an ST Aerospace facility at the airport. Gov. Rick Scott made the announcement Tuesday night. His 2014-2015 budget includes $325 million for aviation improvements, including the one in Pensacola. ST Aerospace, a maintenance, repair and overhaul provider, already has a large operation in Mobile, Ala. The operation in Pensacola is expected to provide 300 jobs. (Post)

-- Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport reported its first gain in passenger traffic in more than a year at a board meeting last week. Passenger traffic increased 2.74 percent over the previous year, the first traffic gain observed since August 2012. Airport Director Parker McClellan said the passenger gain as the beginning of a leveling out process for the airport, due to a significant reduction in flights that took about 400 seats out of the market in the fall of 2012. The airport is in West Bay, northwest of Panama City, Fla.. (Post)

-- Plans for a proposed general aviation airport in Louisiana’s Livingston Parish are progressing with state and federal authorities signing off on the project and parish officials moving toward site selection. A 2011 study suggested the airport would require at least 200 acres, but said 500 acres would be ideal. The proposed airfield would include a single runway of 5,000 feet to 5,400 feet and would accommodate small, private planes and corporate jets but not large jets. Livingston Parish is east of Baton Rouge. (Post)

On Feb. 14, Duke Field, Fla., and several roads will be closed due to Eglin Air Force Base's test mission. The base will be closed and personnel will be evacuated prior to 8:30 a.m. on the day of the test. The base and highways 85 and 285 and surrounding roadways to include range roads will be closed from 8:30 to 10 a.m. The 7th Special Forces Group facilities will remain open. (Post)

-- The 43rd Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., sent more than 200 Airmen, 14 F-22 Raptors and the 325th Training Support Squadron sent 25 Airmen and seven T-38 Talons to Savannah, Ga., Feb. 1. The 43rd FS will train at the Georgia Combat Readiness Training Center in a large-scale aerial scenario against multiple aircraft. "The main goal is to accomplish as much student pilot training as we can," said Maj. John Hensz, 43rd FS assistant director of operations. Team Tyndall will work with F-15 Eagles from Jacksonville Air National Guard, F-16 Falcons from D.C. ANG, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. and Vermont ANG. (Post)

-- Marine Corps Reserve Brig. Gen. William T. Collins was nominated for appointment to the rank of major general. Collins is currently serving as commanding general, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, New Orleans. In addition, Marine Corps Reserve Brig. Gen. James S. Hartsell was nominated for appointment to the rank of major general. Hartsell is currently serving as commanding general, 4th Marine Division, New Orleans. (Post)

International Shipholding: Marine services provider International Shipholding is leaving Mobile, Ala., and returning to New Orleans, the city it left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, by the end of 2015. (Post)
Land buy: Ingalls Shipbuilding bought the 12.26-acre former 84 Lumber property in Moss Point, Miss., that will be used to store material in close proximity to the shipyard. (Post)
LHA 6: The amphibious assault ship America, LHA 6, returned to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., after successful acceptance sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico. (Post)
Avondale: The USS Somerset, expected to be the last Navy ship built at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Avondale shipyard, left early last week headed to Philadelphia for a March 1 commissioning. (Post)
Forrestal: The former carrier USS Forrestal, which was once homeported in Pensacola, Fla., to serve as a training carrier, left Philadelphia and is being towed to a Texas scrapyard. (Post)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Week in review (1/26 to 2/1)

For a good part of the week business in the Gulf Coast I-10 region ground to a halt or was severely curtailed by the winter weather that brought freezing temperatures, icy roads and closed bridges. NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., shut down for two days, and military bases reduced staff to essential personnel. Airports throughout the region shut down as air traffic ground to a halt. But before the end of the week the region returned to normal.

Here's the aerospace week in review:

BusinessWeek tackled an interesting story, wondering if it's possible for business to be too good. It took up the issue of the huge aircraft order backlog being experienced by Airbus and Boeing. Boeing finished 2013 with an order backlog of some 5,100 airplanes, and Airbus finished up the year with an even larger backlog of 5,559 airplanes, led by the popular A320 family.

The backlogs represent more than eight years of assembly work for both companies, and both companies have said they plan to ratchet up production. That's certainly welcome news for Mobile, Ala., which is the site of the newest Airbus A320 final assembly line.

But the article points out that the business situation for airlines can change over time, leading to cancelations. Frustration with having to wait is another factor that can lead to cancelations, making the production gear-up risky. (Post)

Speaking of aircraft orders, Vietnamese carrier VietJetAir said it would finalize a $9 billion order for up to 92 Airbus aircraft next month as it seeks to tap into Southeast Asia's fast growing low-cost market dominated by AirAsia and Lion Air. In September, privately owned VietJetAir and Airbus agreed a provisional order for mostly A320 planes, but the deal did not show up on the order book of Airbus in its 2013 data. (Post)

One of those Southeast Asia competitors in the same market as VietJet Air, Lion Group of Indonesia, has selected CFM International’s CFM56-5B engine for 60 firm A320ceo aircraft. The aircraft order was announced in March 2013. CFM is a joint venture of GE Aviation and Snecma, a division of Safran. GE Aviation has an aircraft engine parts plant near Hattiesburg, Miss., and Safran has an engineering center in Mobile, Ala. (Story)

While we're on the subject of propulsion systems, Airbus Group will decide by the end of March whether to offer more efficient engines for its A330. You'll recall the A330 MRTT was the plane that the Airbus Group, formerly known as EADS, proposed as the platform for Air Force aerial tankers it hoped to build in Mobile. The A330 currently offers engines from GE, Rolls-Royce and Pratt and Whitney. The A330 competes against Boeing's 787, powered by either GE or RR engines. (Post)

This region's interest in jetliner engines is of fairly recent vintage. True, propulsion systems have historically been a part of the aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast region, but that was limited to spacecraft engines. But our interest in airliner engines began when Rolls-Royce in 2007 opened its first outdoor engine test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss. That interest was underscored when GE Aviation built its aircraft engine parts plant near Hattiesburg, Miss. GE Aviation also has engine parts plants in Batesville, Miss., and Auburn, Ala.

That Auburn plant, by the way, was visited early in the week by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., as part of his statewide tour of businesses. Shelby said he visits every Alabama county yearly. This year, he decided to tour area businesses. It was Shelby's first visit to GE Aviation in Auburn, which opened in April. During the tour, Shelby observed the production of jet engine components, like shrouds, HPT blades and turbines. GE Aviation has about 65 workers at the plant, but the number is expected to increase to 300 or 400 in the next several years. (Post) Shelby also visited UTC Aerospace in Baldwin County on Jan. 21. (Post)

United Technologies is pondering the future of helicopter maker Sikorsky, according to Defense News. Sikorsky, maker of Black Hawk, could emerge as a target for European firms eager to crack a U.S. market that remains lucrative. Sikorsky and UTC, which also owns aircraft engine maker Pratt and Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems, declined comment to Defense News.

Sikorsky is the Pentagon's leading helicopter supplier, Boeing is second, the Bell-Boeing joint venture is No. 3, Textron's Bell Helicopter is fourth and Airbus Helicopters is fifth. Sikorsky has multiple support operations in the Gulf Coast. It's also the company that supplies the Schweizer 333 as the airframe for the Fire Scout MQ-8B built in part in Moss Point, Miss..

Other Gulf Coast connections related to this story: Airbus Helicopters builds helicopters in Columbus, Miss.; Bell plans to build a helicopter plant in Lafayette, La.; and UTC has a service center in Foley, Ala. (Post)

-- The Global Hawk unmanned aerial system, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., could be a big winner in the Air Force's fiscal 2015 budget submission, according to Defense News. That would mark a change in fortune for a program the service has tried to kill since 2012.

The Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawk Block 30 will be funded when the president's budget arrives March 4, said two sources with knowledge of budget discussions. The sources confirmed funding will come at the expense of the U-2, which the Air Force had promoted as a cheaper alternative. The news was first reported by Aviation Week. (Post)

The Air Force and Marine variants of the F-35 developed cracks in testing of the fighter's durability and wasn't sufficiently reliable in training flights last year, according to a report released by the Pentagon’s chief tester, Michael Gilmore.

The report says it will require mitigation plans and may include redesigning parts and additional weight. The test report also outlined achievements, finding that flight tests performed by 18 jets to evaluate the aircraft's flying prowess and handling qualities "made the planned progress" and "nearly matched or exceeded" sortie goals through October.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

-- South Korea expects to sign a deal for 40 fighter jets in the third quarter of 2014. Plans to acquire Lockheed Martin F-35s appear on track. South Korea decided to redraw terms of its $7.68 billion tender to buy 60 fighters last year, reducing the number in December to an initial 40 jets. South Korea signaled plans to buy Lockheed Martin F-35A after its Joint Chiefs endorsed a need in December for "cutting-edge stealth" jets for first delivery in 2018. (Post)

The U.S. Transportation Command announced early in the week that Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. William W. Turner, currently assigned as command chief master sergeant, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Fla., has been selected as command senior enlisted leader, U.S. Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill. (Post)

Bell-Boeing Joint Project Office, Amarillo, Texas, was awarded a $10.3 million modification to a previously awarded contract for additional Joint Performance Based Logistics support for the Marine Corps MV-22 and the Air Force and Special Forces Operations Command CV-22 aircraft. Hurlburt Field, Fla., is home of the Air Force Special Operations Command and 1st Special Operations Wing, which uses the CV-22 Osprey. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Ft. Worth, Texas, was awarded a $35.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract to develop a Universal Armament Interface capability in the F-35 software for Small Diameter Bomb II F-35 Mission Systems Integration Laboratory, ground test only. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center, as well as the location where aerial weapons systems are developed. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $13.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for organizational, selected intermediate and limited depot level maintenance for F-16, F-18, H-60 and E-2C aircraft operated by the adversary squadrons based at Naval Air Station, Fallon, Nev.

QinetiQ: QinetiQ North America was awarded a $12 million, three-year contract for ocean modeling, remote sensing, and physical oceanography programs to support the Naval Research Laboratory at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)
LCS 4: The future USS Coronado (LCS 4), departed from the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala., during the week en route to her commissioning site in Coronado, Calif. (Post)