Saturday, April 26, 2014

Week in review (4/20 to 4/26)

SpaceX has certainly been in the news quite a bit. There are of course the successful missions to the International Space Station, and earlier this week it held a ribbon-cutting for its new operation at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

Now there's the suit against the U.S. Air Force. The company said Friday it will file suit over the awarding of billions of dollars to United Launch Alliance for national security launches in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The suit reportedly will be filed Monday. (Post)

SpaceX, which is the most high profile of the commercial companies that has taken on the mission of sending cargo to the ISS, has its eye on even more. It has made no secret that it wants to go deeper into space, and a rocket engine that will take it there will be tested at SSC. And it also wants a piece of the lucrative national security launches.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk pointed out when announcing the suit that the contracts to UAL, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, might even violate sanctions against Russia over that mess in the Ukraine. That's because UAL's Atlas V first stage uses Russian-built RD-180 engines. The other EELV launch system, UAL's Delta IV, uses an SSC-tested Rocketdyne RS-68 for the first stage.

But UAL, which makes the Atlas V and Delta IV in Decatur, Ala., has been highly successful with 68 successful launches in a row. And let’s face it, the military is conservative and likes to go with a proven product.

SpaceX has been highly successful with its ISS missions, and it's showing that it’s no slouch at venturing into other activities. But its launch system still has to be certified as meeting military standards, something that is expected.

Testing of that new, more powerful SpaceX engine that I mentioned above will begin within a month at NASA's rocket engine test facility in South Mississippi. A ceremonial ribbon-cutting was held Monday marking the start of a partnership.

SpaceX plans to test its methane-fueled Raptor rocket engine on the E-2 test stand. The reuseable engine is being developed for a heavy-lift launch vehicle that will make SpaceX a player in deep space.

"In partnership with NASA, SpaceX has helped create one of the most advanced engine testing facilities in the world, and we look forward to putting the stand to good use," said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX.

"These types of activities are opening new doors of commercial space exploration for companies," said Stennis Center Director Rick Gilbrech. (Post)

Speaking of SSC and NASA, for the fourth consecutive year NASA tops the list of most innovative large federal agencies, according to the Partnership for Public Service. The agency scored 76 points out of 100 on the innovation scale. It also accomplished a first in 2013: NASA is the parent agency to the top five most innovative sub-agencies on the list, with John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi ranking No. 1. (Post)

Australia will order 58 more F-35 fighters for $11.61 billion. Australia approved the purchase of 14 of the stealth fighters in 2009, and the additional jets will provide the Royal Australian Air Force with enough aircraft to form three operational squadrons and one training squadron. The first F-35 aircraft will arrive in Australia in 2018 and enter service with the RAAF in 2020. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. (Post)

At Eglin during the week, pilots from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, trained alongside the new F-35 fighter for the first time Thursday. The pilots didn’t fly the F-35 but did participate in a training mission in F-16s. Hill will receive 72 F-35s next year. The jets will be flown by 388th and 419th fighter wings. (Post)

A Japanese-owned plant in Vietnam will make composite parts for the winglets on A320 aircraft, officials announced during the week. Nikkiso Vietnam will be a subcontractor for Korean Air Aerospace Division (KAL-ASD), which has been an Airbus supplier since 1998 and sole supplier of winglets since 2010. (Post)

Nikkiso Co. has operations worldwide and is involved in fields, including aerospace, which specializes in aerospace and manufactures carbon fiber reinforced plastic products for aircraft, space, and satellite components. The company established Nikkiso Vietnam in December 2008. It has also supplied components for GE Blocker Doors for the Boeing 777.

Its plant outside of Hanoi and will make composite vertical bars and armor plates of winglets beginning before the end of the year. KAL-ASD, by the way, delivered its 1,000th winglet, designed to improve air flow and reduce drag, in February of this year.

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) in West Bay, near Panama City, Fla., had a nearly 10 percent decrease in passengers, falling from 171,741 in March 2013 to 155,161 this year. ECP’s market share also dropped. It held a 19 percent market share between January and March, falling behind both Tallahassee Regional Airport and Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Fort Walton Beach, which held 21 and 20 percent, respectively. Pensacola currently holds 40 percent of the market. By comparison, ECP held 22 percent of the market between January and September of 2013, Tallahassee had 19, Fort Walton 20 and Pensacola 40 percent. (Post)

There was a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Thursday marking the anniversary of Operation Eagle Claw, the ill-fated April 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages from Iran. As U.S. forces prepared to abort the operation, one of the helicopters crashed into a transport aircraft, which contained both service members and jet fuel. The resulting fire killed eight service members. Five were from Hurlburt Field. (Post)

-- Two Air Force installations were among the winners of the 2014 Secretary of Defense Environmental Awards. The Natural Resources Team at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., won the Natural Resources Conservation, Individual/Team award for offered long-range solutions that ensured regulatory compliance while maximizing the use of land and water ranges to maintain mission readiness. The other Air Force base was Wright-Patterson in Ohio, and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center F-35 Environmental, Safety and Occupational Health Support Team. (Post)

-- It’s not until June 15 that Keesler Air Force Base’s 345th Tactical Airlift Squadron stands down, but there was a ceremony in Mississippi April 18 marking the end of the unit. Its C-130J aircraft will be sent to another base. The 345th is an active-duty component of the 403rd Wing. Earlier this week, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority whip, visited Keesler and said he thinks the best place to keep the C-130J aircraft is at Keesler. (Post)

The city of DeFuniak Springs, Fla., on Saturday hosted its fourth annual fly-in aviation festival at the DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport. Planes on display at the "Marvel of Flight" festival include a B-25, Chinese and Russian military planes, Huey and Cobra helicopters and more. (Post)

Midwest Air Traffic Control Service Inc., Overland Park, Kan., and Readiness Management Support LC, Panama City, Fla., were each awarded contract for the procurement of air traffic management and electronic equipment maintenance services to support air traffic control operations, airfield management, air to ground communications operations and maintenance, surveillance and precision radar systems operations and maintenance, voice communications systems operations and maintenance, and aviation command and control operations and maintenance. Work will be performed in Southwest Asia.

JHSV: Navy’s first-in-class Joint High Speed Vessel, the Mobile, Ala.-built USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1), participated in exercise Obangame Express along with European, Atlantic and African partners in the Gulf of Guinea April 16-21. (Post)
Contract: Northrop Grumman, Annapolis, Md., was awarded a $25 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the continuation of depot level repair, maintenance, related engineering services and more for work related to mine detection. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity. (Post)
Contract: General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, was awarded a $28.7 million modification to previously awarded contract for Littoral Combat Ship class design services. One percent of the work will be done in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Week in review (4/13 to 4/19)

Dignitaries will be out in force Monday for the ribbon cutting for SpaceX's new engine component research and development operation at Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi. Mississippi's governor will be there, as well as a senator and congressman. Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, will also be on hand for the 3 p.m. ceremony. (Post)

SpaceX is familiar to folks who follow the growing field of commercial space. SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., was the first commercial company to successfully dock with the International Space Station in May 2012 (post), then followed it in October with its first successful resupply mission. On Friday at Cape Canaveral, Fla., SpaceX used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch an unmanned Dragon capsule for the company's third resupply mission to the ISS. SpaceX is due to complete 12 missions for NASA.

So when SpaceX announced in October 2013 that it would use SSC, NASA's largest rocket engine test facility, to test its next generation deep-space Raptor methane rocket engines, it was significant. It brings another piece of the commercial space ventures to the Gulf Coast region. (GCAC story)

Another company that sends cargo to the ISS, Orbital Sciences, also has ties to Stennis Space Center. Orbital's launch vehicle, the Antares, uses Aerojet AJ26 engines to lift it from the launch pad. Those engines also are tested at SSC.

SpaceX has plans for far more than missions to the ISS. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who is also cofounder of PayPal, has been keenly interested in flying manned missions to Mars. That requires powerful engines like those that have historically been tested at SSC.

Raptor is under development for a higher performance upper stage for SpaceX launch vehicles. SpaceX will use the E2 test stand for R&D of its methane-fueled Raptors, capable of generating nearly 300 tons of thrust. The E-2 can support both vertical and horizontal rocket engine tests. The state supplied $500,000 in incentives to improve the stand.

With the upgrades, the stand is one of the most sophisticated high-pressure test facilities in the world capable of supporting many potential users. It will remain the property of SSC for future use as needed.

After the SpaceX announcement in October 2013, Sen. Thad Cochran pointed out that talks had been going on with SpaceX for many years about working at SSC. "I hope this is just the beginning of their endeavors in our state," he said.

But the significance goes well beyond the Stennis-Michoud area of South Mississippi and Louisiana. For the rest of the Gulf Coast region vying for more aerospace activities, having SpaceX doing R&D in the region might well be the kind of information that seals a deal. The more high profile aerospace companies, the more significant their activities, the better for the entire region.

-- With testing of the J-2X engine completed April 10, engineers at Stennis Space Center are now preparing the RS-25 engine for the test stands. Four RS-25 engines, the same engines that powered the Space Shuttles, will power the core stage of Space Launch System that will take astronauts deeper into space than ever before.

More than 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.6 feet, the core stage will store cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the RS-25s. Modifications to the engines, like higher thrust levels, were needed on the engines for the SLS. (Post)

-- NASA's Orion spacecraft passed a test designed to determine readiness for its first flight test, Exploration Flight Test-1. EFT-1 later this year will send the spacecraft more than 3,600 miles from Earth then back.

The spacecraft ran for 26 uninterrupted hours during the final phase of a major test series completed April 8 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Orion is built in part at Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans. (Post)

A column about aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast region wouldn't be complete with some new information on Airbus, which is building an A320 final assembly line at the Mobile Aeroplex. Mobile officials are gearing up to apply for a highly competitive $10 million grant to renovate Broad Street from Water Street to the Mobile Aeroplex. That's according to a story in the Mobile Press-Register/ The goal of the project is to rebuild and revitalize 3.7 miles of the busy thoroughfare in preparation for the increased traffic and attention expected once the assembly line opens.

-- With the more fuel efficient A320neo set to start flight tests in October, industry sources claim Airbus is considering shifting its focus to avionics, cabin and other system improvements that could sustain the A320 well into the 2020s

Aviation Week says that according to sources, suppliers will meet with Airbus later this month to discuss various upgrade packages for the A320neo. The initiative could result in a series of systems and interior upgrades that would start being introduced as of early 2016 onto production aircraft. (Post)

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center, and news about that stealthy aircraft is of high interest to the folks over there. Along those lines, the Lockheed Martin F-35 fleet recently surpassed 15,000 flight hours. As of April 7, operational F-35s had flown 8,050 hours while System Development and Demonstration aircraft had accumulated 7,123 flight hours.

In 2014, F-35A test aircraft have flown 328 hours; F-35B test aircraft compiled 191 hours; and F-35C test aircraft have flown 91 hours. In comparison, operational F-35As have flown 963 hours, while their F-35B and F-35C counterparts have accumulated 1,012 and 98 hours respectively for the year. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $54.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract for production non-recurring technical assistance in support of the F-35 Lot VII effort for the Navy, Air Force, and international partner governments.

Work will be done in California, Texas, United Kingdom, Florida, New Hampshire, Georgia, New York and Canada and is expected to be completed in January 2015. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. (Post)

Former Blue Angel Capt. Gregory McWherter has been relieved of duty as executive officer of Naval Base Coronado, Calif., pending an investigation into alleged misconduct while he was commander of the Blue Angels aerial demonstration team. McWherter was commanding officer and flight leader of the Pensacola, Fla.-based Blue Angels from November 2008 to November 2010, and from May 2011 to November 2012. (Post)

Contract: Alion Science and Technology Corp., Washington, D.C., was awarded a $25 million modification to previously awarded contract for additional professional support services in support of the Surface Warfare Directorate. Six percent of the work will be done in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Week in review (4/6 to 4/12)

An airline changes some Airbus orders; UTC Foley will provide nozzle maintenance for an airline's A320s; the FAA wants to create a UAV center of excellence; the UK will train personnel to use Tritons in preparation for a possible purchase; an airport in Fairhope earns AdvantageSite designation; a grant to Enterprise will help provide infrastructure so an aerospace company can expand; Silver Airways is pulling out of the Hattiesburg airport; a Maryland security group will use facilities at Camp Shelby for training; Eglin's Armament Directorate celebrates a weapon milestone; and the last Holloman F-22 arrives at Tyndall Air Force Base were among the aerospace stories of interest to the Gulf Coast region.

Here's the week in review:

A year after the ground breaking ceremony for Airbus' first A320 family assembly facility to be built in the United States, the plant in Mobile, Ala., is progressing. The main buildings are taking shape and the first workers have started on-the-job training in Germany.

The steelwork on the main building, the Final Assembly Line hangar where the A320 family aircraft will be assembled, started in April 2013 and is nearing completion. In addition, the powerhouse, which will provide utilities, is also nearing completion. The construction work continues with the assembly of the service building, housing the main offices, followed by the building of the logistics center. (Post)

-- American Airlines is changing 30 firm orders for 30 Airbus A320neo jetliners into options, according to an investor update. The planes were scheduled to be delivered in 2021 and 2022 and were part of the company's large order of 260 Airbus narrow-body aircraft announced in 2011. American also said it terminated its existing lease financing arrangements for 62 Airbus A320 that American is scheduled to receive between 2015 and 2017 and instead will the purchase the aircraft.(Post)

-- UTC Aerospace Systems' Aerostructures was chosen by Florida-based Spirit Airlines to provide nozzle maintenance for the Airbus A320 family aircraft in the carrier's fleet. Spirit operates more than 50 A320 family aircraft. The work for the three-year contract will be performed at UTC Aerospace Systems' Alabama Service Center in Foley, Ala.(Post)

The Southeast didn't get one of the six FAA test sites that will help integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace, but now the FAA is looking to establish a center for excellence within the next year.

FAA is looking for government, industry and academic partners for the COE. Areas of interest include air traffic control interoperability, airport ground operations, pilot training and certification, human factors and privacy practices.

The FAA intends to release a draft request for proposal and publicly discuss program requirements in May. The Gulf Coast region has a keen interest in unmanned aerial systems. They are used at several military bases, and Fire Scout and variants of the Global Hawk are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

-- Britain's Ministry of Defense is sending a team to train on Northrop Grumman's Triton unmanned system in preparation for a decision next year on whether to re-establish a maritime patrol capability. The government said that four personnel are scheduled to train on the MQ-4C Triton during June and August 2014 at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md. The Triton is the U.S. Navy’s version of Global Hawk. It’s in flight test phase ahead of delivery to the U.S. Navy. Tritons are built in part in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

A 110-acre industrial park next to H. L. Sonny Callahan Airport in Fairhope, Ala., is the fifth Baldwin County site to earn the Alabama AdvantageSite designation. The program is designed to increase the marketability of locations in Alabama. The Fairhope Airport Industrial Park has 75 contiguous developable acres out of 110. It’s located 12 miles south of Interstate 10, next to the municipal airport and its 6,604-foot runway. The area is also the location of the nearly complete Aerospace Training Center. (Post)

-- A $500,000 grant is being awarded to Enterprise to help an aerospace company expand its aviation business. The company is Alabama Aircraft Support, which specializes in the maintenance, repair and overhaul of military and commercial helicopters and small aircraft. The Community Development Block Grant awarded to the city will provide infrastructure enabling the company to expand its business and construct a 64,800-square-foot aircraft maintenance building and hangar. Enterprise is west of Fort Rucker, the Army's helicopter aviation center. (Post)

-- Silver Airways plans to end service at Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport. Airport Executive Director Tom Heanue said he got a call from airline officials Wednesday afternoon to let him know that Silver intended to file 90-day Notice of Termination papers.

Silver stepped in to serve the aiarport when Delta Air Lines said in the summer of 2011 that it was dropping 24 routes in smaller markets across the nation, including Hattiesburg. Silver Airways is a regional carrier based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Post)

A Maryland counterterrorism security training company will conduct specialized training at Mississippi’s Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center. ViaGlobal Group of Annapolis signed the agreement after several visits to the Mississippi National Guard installation south of Hattiesburg.

Camp Shelby's facilities include a state-of-the-art urban terrain site and live fire shoot house. The base is 135,000 acres with ranges for Abrams M1 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, MRAPs and more. There’s also an air-to-ground bombing range and a combat training runway designed for C-17 short-field landing operations. (Post)

-- The Armament Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., celebrated a milestone with delivery of the first production lot of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range missiles to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, last month. The JASSM Program Office at Eglin Air Force Base, working with contractor Lockheed Martin Missile Fire and Control in Orlando Fla., jointly spearheaded the development, testing and fielding of this newest JASSM variant. Seventy percent of the hardware and 90 percent of software are common between the two variants. (Post)

-- Keesler Air Force Base's C-130Js were discussed again during two hearings in Washington. Rep. Steven Palazzo, in front of the House Readiness Subcommittee hearing, and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, grilled Air Force leaders about plans to move 10 aircraft to Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. (Post)

Speaking of those aircraft, last weekend all of Keesler's C-130J and WC-130J aircraft were up in the air simultaneously as part of the 403rd Wing's training exercise. The exercise was one of the largest the 403rd Wing has conducted. The three-hour training exercise included dropping 15 pound sandbags to simulate a tactical air drop. (Post)

-- The last F-22 from New Mexico arrived at Tyndall Air Force Base this week. The four F-22 Raptors from the 7th Fighter Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base brings to 24 the number of Raptors transferred to Tyndall from Holloman. The move will ultimately involve 1,100 personnel. Seven T-38 Talons also were moved from Holloman to Tyndall. (Post)

Jacobs Technology Inc., Tullahoma, Tenn., was awarded a $67 million modification for an existing contract with multiple funding appropriations at the task order level for technical and engineering acquisition support services. Work will be done at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., with completion by Oct. 18, 2014. Air Force Test Center/PZZ, Eglin Air Force Base, is the contracting activity. (Post)

Avondale: Huntington Ingalls said it will conduct a study with Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP to explore redeveloping Huntington Ingalls Industries' Avondale shipyard in Louisiana. (Post)
LHA 6: Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Miss., deliver the amphibious assault ship America (LHA 6) to the Navy during the week. (Post)
Ingalls: Brian Cuccias, Ingalls Shipbuilding's president, said the Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard is looking to hire 2,500 craft workers this year. (Post)
Railgun: The Navy plans to test an electromagnetic railgun aboard a Joint High Speed Vessel in fiscal year 2016. JHSVs are built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Week in review (3/30 to 4/5)

A new order for Fire Scout MQ-8C unmanned helicopters; a contractor picked to operate the Airbus paint facility in Mobile; a supplier conference; a contract extension for Orbital Sciences and SpaceX; a drop in the cost of the F-35 program; and a command change with Keesler Air Force Base's medical group were among the news items of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Here's the week in review:

The South is already home to auto giants, and it's increasingly attracting some of the biggest names in aviation and aerospace, including Boeing in South Carolina, Airbus in Alabama, Gulfstream in Georgia and GE Aviation in North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.

Aerospace companies are moving manufacturing operations to Southern states, in part due to lower costs, state incentives and right-to-work laws. And it's a good sector to attract because it's growing. Sales grew 41 percent from 2002 to 2012, driven largely by military and international sales. And that growth won't ebb anytime soon. (Post)

One of the indications of that growth was the SpeedNews Aerospace Manufacturing Conference that was held in Mobile early this week at the Battle House Hotel. Organizer Joanna Speed told the Alabama Commerce Department's "Made in Alabama" that the first aerospace manufacturing conference was held in Charleston, S.C., because of the Boeing 787 assembly line.

She said it made sense to have the second in Mobile because of the Airbus final assembly line being built at the Mobile Aeroplex. The focus of the SpeedNews conferences is on the manufacturing supply chains for original equipment manufacturers. According to organizers, 225 companies and organizations attended the two-day Mobile  conference. We’ll have to take their word for that since the conference was closed to the media.

Speaking of manufacturers, I'll get a chance to meet some folks from Okaloosa County's Technology Coast Manufacturing and Engineering Network this week. I've been asked to speak before TeCMEN about the broader Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor, which stretches from Southeast Louisiana to Northwest Florida.

In case you don't know, Okaloosa County has a unique niche within the 350-mile aerospace corridor and is hands-down one of the region's hot spots. It's a technology hub where most of the region's military-related research and development dollars are spent. It's also the center for F-35 pilot and maintainer training, and home of U.S. Air Force Special Operations, one of the areas of the military that's growing.

The folks from TeCMEN no doubt are well aware of the Airbus A320 final assembly line being built to their west in Mobile. During the week Airbus Americas said ground will be broken in the second quarter on a $13 million paint shop hangar. The 34-employee facility on the Airbus site will be operated by MAAS Aviation Services, a division of the Expressair Aviation Group.

MAAS has options for expansion as Airbus’ production increases. Expressair Aviation Group is a privately owned, Irish registered holding company. MAAS has paint hangars in Ireland, the UK and Netherlands. (Post)

Meanwhile, Airbus is seeking to fill seven hourly aircraft quality inspector positions for its A320 final assembly line being built at the Mobile Aeroplex. The latest listings include one quality inspector for the flight line and six for the final assembly line. Pay ranges from $20 to $30 an hour. (Post)

-- Standex International Corp. announced that Spincraft, the company's engineered products metal fabrication business unit, received a life of program award from Senior Aerospace to produce exhaust plug and nozzle components for the nacelle on the Airbus A320neo.

Under the agreement, Spincraft will produce exhaust plug and nozzle sets, consisting of five individual components, for all the A320neo assemblies produced by SSP. SSP production is anticipated to represent up to 100 percent of the volume requirements on the UTAS nacelle for the Pratt & Whitney engine version of the aircraft. (Post)

Orbital Sciences and SpaceX could be hauling cargo to the international space station through 2017 under a planned two-year contract extensions NASA announced March 31. NASA said it plans to extend the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts it gave Orbital and SpaceX in 2008 "for up to 24 months from December 2015 to December 2017."

It was unclear whether NASA will be ordering additional missions. Orbital's Antares launch vehicle uses Aerojet AJ26 engines tested at Stennis Space Center; SpaceX last year announced it will test its Raptor methane rocket engines at SSC. (Post)

-- The third Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite has begun transmitting using its protected communications payload, joining two other satellites undergoing system test in orbit with a suite of user terminals.

AEHF satellites are produced by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Air Force. Launched on Sept. 18, 2013, AEHF-3 arrived in its final orbit position and began transmissions in January. Core propulsion system work on the AEHF is done at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

-- Veteran Space Shuttle astronaut Tom Jones, a senior research scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla., will be a featured speaker at the first X-STEM: Extreme STEM Symposium in Washington, D.C., on April 24.

The symposium for kids includes talks by 50 of the nation's most noted science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals representing top universities, corporations, non-profits and governmental agencies.

"I'm honored to speak at X-STEM and get to meet some of our future explorers," said Jones, who flew on four shuttle missions. "Exciting our young people about science, technology, engineering and math … is crucial to America's future."

IHMC is a non-profit institute focusing on human-machine interaction. (Post)

OK, this one isn't space, but it does involve IHMC. Some of the world's most advanced robots will be on display April 10 at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition Robotics Lab in downtown Pensacola, Fla. The open house is 4-7 p.m. at 201 E. Wright Street.

Among the robots on display will be Atlas, a humanoid robot built by Boston Dynamics and used by IHMC in the DARPA Robotics Challenge in December 2013. IHMC, which wrote the programs that allowed Atlas to perform life-saving tasks during a disaster, finished second among 16 of the world's top robotics development teams.

Also on display will be FastRunner, a two-legged, fast-moving platform inspired by the ostrich, and NASA's X1 exoskeleton, designed to help astronauts exercise in space and to help disabled humans walk on Earth. The event is free and will feature demonstrations and tours. (Post)

The estimated acquisition cost of the F-35 program dropped $11.5 billion over the past year, the congressional Government Accountability Office reported early in the week in its annual report on U.S. arms programs.

GAO now estimates the Pentagon will spend $332.3 billion over coming decades to develop the radar-evading F-35 jet and buy a total of 2,457 aircraft, about 3.3 percent less than last year's estimate. The new estimate was provided in fiscal year 2014 dollars. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training program. (Post)

-- BAE Systems Electronic Solutions, Nashua, N.H., was awarded a $47.4 million contract for the manufacture of the transmitter countermeasures T-1687A/ALE-70 (V) in support of the F-35 program. Work will be performed at Nashua and work is expected to be completed by April 2017. The NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support, Mechanicsburg, Pa., is the contracting activity. (Post)

Northrop Grumman Systems of San Diego won a $43.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract to build and deliver to the Navy five more MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopters and one ground control station. According to Flightglobal, the new orders bring to 19 the number of Fire Scout C variants in development and testing.

The C version of the Fire Scout has the same capabilities as the earlier MQ-8B, but is based on the airframe of a much larger Bell 407 helicopter. The Navy has 28 of the MQ-8Bs, which us a Schweizer 333.

Northrop Grumman said it will deliver the first operational MQ-8C to the Navy some time this summer. A joint Northrop-Navy team first flew the MQ-8C on Oct. 31, 2013 at Naval Base Ventura County at Point Magu, Calif.

Work on the latest order will be done in Dallas, Texas (32 percent); Ozark, Ala. (27 percent); Rancho Bernardo, Calif. (25 percent); Moss Point, Miss. (15 percent); and Point Mugu, Calif. (1 percent), and is expected to be completed in December 2015.

Col. David W. Hicks has been assigned as vice commander of the First Air Force (Air Forces Northern), Air Combat Command, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Hicks was also selected for the grade of brigadier general. He’s currently vice director, operations, J-3, North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

Also, Brig. Gen. Jack L. Briggs II, current vice commander of the First Air Force at Tyndall, has been assigned to director of operations, J-3, Headquarters U.S. Northern Command, Peterson AFB, Colo. Briggs was also selected for the grade of major general. (Post)

-- In Mississippi, the "Dragon Medics" now has a new leader. Col. (Dr.) Thomas Harrell assumed command of the 81st Medical Group from Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Kory Cornum during a change of command ceremony at Keesler Medical Center's Don Wylie Auditorium at Keesler Air Force Base.

Harrell comes to Keesler from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, where he commanded the Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs Joint Venture Hospital and also served as the Alaskan Command command surgeon. Cornum has been reassigned to Scott AFB, Ill., as Air Mobility Command command surgeon. (Post)

BES Design/Build LLC, Fairhope, Ala.; Hernandez Consulting LLC, New Orleans, La.; and Hollon Contracting LLC, Dothan, Ala., were among 29 companies awarded a $20 million contract for the sustainment/repair and maintenance of National Guard military construction projects at Little Rock Air Force Base, Camp Joseph T. Robinson, and Fort Smith Regional Airport. … Technical Software Services Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was among nine companies awarded modifications under previously awarded multiple award contracts to exercise option two of the contracts. The contracts provide education training products and services for the Naval Education Training Command in conjunction with Naval Education Training and Professional Development and Technology Center which works to educate Navy sailors in a variety of ways. The maximum contract value for option two for all nine contracts combined is $33 million. Ninety percent of the work will be done in Pensacola. … Boeing, St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a maximum $80 million contract for Joint Direct Attack Munitions technical support for studies and analysis, product improvement, upgrades, integration (including, but not limited to, software integration, aircraft integration, and associated hardware) and testing. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $7.6 million modification to a contract for production cut-in of an Advanced Range Telemetry (ARTM) transmitter into the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBAK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

LCS: The Austal and Lockheed Martin versions of Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) performed well in a major war game last week and surprised some "enemies" with their capabilities, a top Navy admiral said. One version of the LCS is built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala. (Post)
Austal: Austal USA, Mobile, Ala., was awarded a $6.7 million modification to previously awarded contract for fabrication and assembly of a live fire test module in support of the Navy's Independence variant littoral combat ship survivability testing program. Work will be done in Mobile, Ala., and is expected to be completed by March 2015. The Supervisor of Shipbuilding Gulf Coast, Pascagoula, Miss., is the contracting activity. (Post)
Commissioning: The Navy will commission its newest littoral combat ship, the future USS Coronado (LCS 4) during a ceremony Saturday at Naval Air Station, North Island in Coronado, Calif. The ship was built by Austal, USA, in Mobile, Ala. (Post)
NSC: Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., has received a $497 million contract from the U.S. Coast Guard to build a seventh Legend-class National Security Cutter (WMSL 756). Construction on the ship will begin in January 2015. (Post)
Change of command: Capt. Joseph M. Tuite relieved Capt. Stephen W. Mitchell as Supervisor of Shipbuilding Gulf Coast in a ceremony at Mississippi's Ocean Springs Civic Center March 28. The Supervisor of Shipbuilding Gulf Coast is in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)