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)

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