Saturday, May 31, 2014

Week in review (5/25 to 5/31)

If you want to learn more about the aerospace activities in the Gulf Coast region, you'll want to take a look Monday at the fourth edition of the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League's annual book.

This year the team took a look at the aerospace products that are made, developed, tested or managed in this region, as well as efforts to lure suppliers to the region. There's also a chapter on workforce development, and one about the airports in the region that are key economic development magnets. The book also takes a look at cutting-edge work done in this region, and military aviation.

The separate chapters as well as the entire book will be available as free PDF downloads, thanks to the underwriters who are support the research that goes into this book.

So a tip of the hat to, in alphabetical order: Aerospace Alliance, Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, Enterprise Florida, Florida's Great Northwest, Greater Pensacola Chamber, Gulf Power, Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, Mobile Airport Authority, Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, Pensacola International Airport, PowerSouth, Santa Rosa County Economic Development and Trent Lott International Airport.

The book will be available at the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor website. Watch for it Monday.

Now for your week in review:

Now we know an F-35 can shoot down two targets sequentially. It happened during a test last week off the coast of California when an F35B, the Marine Corps variant, engaged two drones with two AIM-120 medium range missiles. That was a first for any F-35 variant. It happened at the Point Mugu Sea Test Range.

A different F-35, this one the A variant used by the Air Force, completed the first flight test with the next level software load. The plane flew a 1.9-hour mission at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., with the first Block 3i hardware and software.

On the other side of the country, an F-35C, the variant with a tailhook designed for Navy ships, accomplished a landing at the maximum test speed and drop rate. The test at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., was to test the aircraft's landing gear, airframe and arrestment system.

The F-35 has so far amassed more than 17,000 flight hours, with all three variant aircraft at the F-35 Integrated Training Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., surpassing the 5,000 sorties milestone during the week. (Post)

Usually when I write about a robot in this space, it's one that's airborne.

A robot called HexRunner developed in Pensacola, Fla., set a new land-speed record for legged robots last week, hitting 33 mph without being tethered. HexRunner has six spring-loaded legs revolving around a central hub, with three legs on each side of the hub. At the tip of the top leg it stands six feet high.

HexRunner was developed by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition for the DARPA-sponsored FastRunner project. And now that I think of it, it was airborne between steps. So it is an aerospace story. (Post)

That engine failure during a test at Stennis Space Center, Miss., is forcing Orbital Sciences to delay the launch of its second robotic resupply mission to the International Space Station.

An Aerojet AJ26, one of two used on Orbital's Antares launch vehicle, failed midway through a test. Orbital Sciences decided to postpone the June 10 launch of the company's Antares until at least June 17. The Antares is used to launch the company's unmanned Cygnus cargo spacecraft. (Post)

Fourteen environmental sites at the Mobile Aeroplex will be tested for hazardous substances. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is providing Mobile, Ala., with $400,000 to help clean up those potentially contaminated lands on the complex and surrounding neighborhoods.

The funds are through EPA's Brownfields Program. The Aeroplex is the former Brookley Air Force Base, and it’s the site of multiple aerospace operations, including Airbus, ST Aerospace, Star Aviation and Continental Motors. (Post)

Speaking of Continental Motors, the company, which makes piston engines for some of the best known small aircraft manufacturers, is featured the most recent issue of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce's Business View.

Continental Motors has been around since the 1920s. Back in 2011 it was bought by Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) in 2011. The new owners are investing in the Mobile facility. (Post)

Airbus is seeking additional liaison engineers for its A320 final assembly line being built at Mobile Aeroplex in Alabama. The four positions posted early in the week include liaison engineers for electrical systems installations, power plant and mechanical, avionics systems and cabin systems. (Post)

-- Ricardo, a global engineering, strategic, and environmental consultancy in Brighton, U.K., has been awarded an order from UTC Aerospace Systems for the manufacture of components used within the flap actuation system for the Airbus A320 family of aircraft. Airbus is building an A320 final assembly line in Mobile, and UTC Aerospace has an operation in Foley, Ala. (Post)

A new building and entrance sign is in place at Stennis International Airport, just outside Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi. Million Air Stennis has been constructing the new building and hangar that dwarfs the one-story facility it has been using.

It has a conference room, theater, flight planning room, cafe, two lounges and two sleeper rooms for overnight stays. In addition, the FAA has approved a $235,053 grant for the installation of new fencing along the airport’s perimeter. (Post)

L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $55.4 million contract modification for logistics services support of the TH-57 aircraft fleet. Work will be performed at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Fla., and is expected to be completed in May 2015. … Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $7.4 million contract modification to generate simulation scenarios in support of Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center's initial operational test and evaluation at Space-Based Infrared Systems Engineering and Manufacturing Development, Block 20. Lockheed Martin at Stennis Space Center, Miss., does the core propulsion system work on the SBIRS satellites. … EADS North America Inc., Herndon, Va. was awarded a $33.8 million contract modification for logistic support for the Utility Helicopter-72A. Work is to be performed in Columbus, Miss., with an estimated completion date of June 30, 2016.

Egypt-bound: Two fast missile craft built in Mississippi for the Egyptian Navy were loaded onto a civilian transport ship in Pensacola Bay last weekend. (Post)
ATB: VT Halter Marine in Mississippi has delivered an ocean-going articulated tug barge (ATB) to Bouchard Transportation, a 96-year-old New York state total service oil barging company. (Post)
Contract: Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Bethpage, N.Y., was awarded a $20.9 million contract modification to provide integration services for mission packages that will deploy from and integrate with the Littoral Combat Ship. Ten percent of the work will be done in Panama City, Fla. (Post)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Week in review (5/18 to 5/24)

It's precisely why rocket engines are tested at Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi before being fitted to a launch vehicle.

On Thursday an Aerojet Rocketdyne AJ-26 rocket engine of the type used to power Orbital Sciences' Antares launch vehicle failed during hot fire testing. The liquid oxygen and kerosene engine, a modified version of the Russian-built NK-33, was about halfway through a test at the E-complex when it exploded, according to NASAspaceflight.

Fortunately, nobody was injured.

The Sun Herald reported that while officials didn't confirm or deny the explosion report, a NASA spokesman in Washington said the test stand was being checked to ensure it was intact. The test started at 2 p.m. and 30 seconds into the 54-second test the engine terminated, the newspaper said. Orbital said it resulted in extensive damage to the engine.

It was back in June 2011 that another AJ-26 engine was badly damaged in a fuel fire at Stennis Space Center. The AJ-26 engine shut down prematurely after a fuel leak developed during a hot-fire acceptance test, and the leaking kerosene fuel ignited. The test stand at Stennis Space Center suffered only minor damage.

Orbital Sciences has already had multiple successful launches of the Antares, which lifts the cargo vehicle Cygnus on supply missions to the International Space Station. The rockets are launched from Wallops Island, Va. (Post)

Meanwhile, a union strike against Lockheed Martin at Stennis Space Center earlier in the week ended when members of Local 2249 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union approved a three-year contract. The union representing about 115 workers who support NASA rocket testing at SSC went on strike after midnight May 16. (Post)

An A350 that for the past few weeks has undergone extreme temperature tests at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, Fla., paid a visit to Airbus' new home in Mobile, Ala. It made a low-altitude pass over the Mobile Aeroplex Friday. That's where Airbus has an engineering center and is building an A320 final assembly line. It also flew over the Robert Trent Jones golf course, site of the Airbus LPGA Classic. The A350 is a mid-size, widebody jetliner and has been at the McKinley Climatic Lab at Eglin since early this month undergoing extreme weather tests. (Post)

-- Airbus posted more positions for its A320 final assembly line being built in Mobile. The hourly positions include aircraft mechanics, cabin installers and aircraft systems installers. Starting pay rates range from $16.50 to $22.50 an hour plus benefits. A minimum of nine months training abroad is required. The company also announced it's seeking a salaried supply chain inspector. (Post)

-- China Southern Airlines plans to buy 80 A320 jetliners with a listed value of at least $7.3 billion from Airbus. Asia's largest carrier's order includes 50 A320neo jets, the company said in a statement to the Shanghai stock exchange. (Post)

U.S. Special Operations Command plans to add a forward-facing gun and better armor to its 50 CV-22 Ospreys, along with Hellfire missiles to the AC-130 fleet. And both would get new command and control and radio frequency jammers and countermeasures.

That's according to a briefing during an annual conference in Tampa, Fla. The command has developed a laser-guided small diameter bomb that will be fielded on the AC-130 gunship this summer, and is just starting the process of fitting Hellfire missiles on the aircraft. Hurlburt Field, Fla., is home of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command. (Post)

-- The Holiday Inn Resort Beachfront on Okaloosa Island is now open. The Florida resort is the first private hotel to be built on Air Force land. The project has been in the works for six years, the result of an Air Force directive to find under-utilized properties and make some money off of them.

Innisfree Resorts built the hotel on a prime stretch of beachfront, and they'll pay the Air Force a portion of their revenue. The money will be used for projects to boost morale and welfare on Eglin Air Force Base. (Post)

The 152-room, $25 million hotel is a joint project of Innisfree and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and sits on 17 acres at Eglin's A-5 test site. The Air Force has a radar stations on the roofs of the buildings, camouflaged as a giant beach ball.

Additional flights and larger planes will fly into the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi this summer. That’s according to Clay Williams, airport executive director, who said spring and summer are typically the busiest travel time in this market.

Many of the changes involve larger aircraft. Last week the FAA said it will provide $4.5 million to rehabilitate the zones at the end of the runway that take the force of a plane touchdown. The airport is located in Gulfport. (Post)

M7 Aerospace LLC, San Antonio, Texas, was awarded a $16.1 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for logistics support for 12 Navy/Marine Corps UC-35 aircraft and seven Navy C-26 aircraft at 10 locations, including the Fleet Marine Reserve Detachment, Belle Chasse, La. … Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $20 million modification for acceleration effort in support of the production of Space-Based Infrared Systems (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) 5 and 6 satellites. The Mississippi Space and Technology Center, Stennis Space Center, Miss., does satellite core propulsion system work for the SBIRS. … Boeing of St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $27.7 million modification for QF-16 Full-Scale Aerial Target Lot 2. This option is for the purchase of 23 QF-16 FSATs and 23 four-year warranties of the QF-16 Drone-Peculiar Equipment (DPE). Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/EBYK (Aerial Targets), Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $9.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract to execute Mode 5 Identification Friend or Foe for the F-35 air system. Work will be done in California and Texas and is expected to be completed in May 2016. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Week in review (5/11 to 5/17)

The fourth edition of the annual Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor will be available in just over two weeks. We're excited about this year's offering, which will have a chapter on aerospace products that are made, developed, tested or in some other way tied to the I-10 corridor.

Products range from the Dream Chaser spaceship being built in New Orleans to unmanned aerial systems, engines, avionics systems and more. I think you'll be surprised at just how many weapons systems are developed and managed at Florida's Eglin Air Force Base.

We also have a chapter on the long drawn out process of attracting suppliers to the region in the wake of Airbus building an assembly line in Mobile, and a chapter on education and workforce efforts. There's also a new chapter about the region’s airports, commercial and non-commercial alike, that are playing a role in luring new companies to the region, plus a chapter on cutting-edge work done in the region and a piece on the military.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the sponsors who have already signed up to support the research that has gone into the book. Sure, we could provide the research and compile the book without them, but we’d have to charge for the book instead of offering it as a free PDF or a printed book at cost. The underwriters feel the information is important and want to make it available to anyone who wants it.

The book will be available June 2.

Now for the week in review:

The workforce is slowing being pulled together for the A320 final assembly line being built at the Mobile Aeroplex in Alabama. Airbus Americas posted two new positions during the week. One is for a health, safety and environmental specialist and one is for a manufacturing engineer. The assembly line will open in 2015 and the first plane will be delivered in 2016. (Post)

-- Speaking of the Aeroplex, the Alabama Aviation Training Center is now open. The first class of 22 hourly workers are preparing for future employment at the Airbus plant being built a few blocks away. A formal grand opening of the Alabama Industrial Development Training program operation is set for June 24. (Post)

-- In addition to the Mobile operations, Airbus has a presence in Columbus, Miss., where it builds UH-72A Lakota helicopters for the Army. The plant recently delivered the 300th helicopter to the Army. Since the contract was awarded in 2006, the company has delivered the helicopter in seven different configurations for missions including training, border security, search and rescue, medical evacuation and more. (Post)

NASA is nearing completion on two major structural restoration construction packages for the B-2 Test Stand that will be used to test the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which will carry astronauts into deep space.

Beginning in 2016 the core stage, powered by four RS-25 engines, will be tested on the B-2 stand. The first two work packages to renovate the stand will be done in July, while two other work packages will be finished in 2015. (Post)

Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport tentatively approved a lease with Gateway America to manage the airport's cargo warehouse. The lease would relieve the airport of up to $175,000 a year in operating expenses that Gateway will assume, and generate $3,500 a month in rent. Gateway leases 20 percent of the warehouse right now and under the cargo management agreement would find other tenants and customers. (Post)

-- The Air Force announced the assignment of Maj. Gen. Leonard A. Patrick, commander, Second Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., to vice commander, Headquarters Air Education and Training Command, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. Also announced was the assignment of Brig. Gen. Mark A. Brown, who has been selected for the grade of major general, director, financial management, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to commander, Second Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Keesler. (Post)

Lockheed Martin workers who operate NASA test stands at Stennis Space Center, Miss., are on strike over the company's plan to end pensions. It involves members of Local 2249 of the International Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Lockheed Martin and the union are at the end of a three-year contract. It doesn’t impact Lockheed's Mississippi Space and Technology Center at SSC, which works on satellite systems. (Post)

-- Raytheon has delivered the 1,000th Miniature Air Launched Decoy Jammer to the U.S. Air Force. The ADM-160C MALD-J variant, an autonomous stand-in-jammer, can also operate in decoy mode. MALD, with a range of 500 nautical miles, protects aircraft by duplicating the combat flight profiles of U.S. and allied aircraft. MALD-J adds radar-jamming capability to the basic MALD platform. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., manages the MALD-J program. (Post)

-- Exelis was ranked No. 1 in Aviation Week's 2014 Top-Performing Company study in the $1 billion to $5 billion revenue category. The annual study examines more than 50 aerospace and defense companies. It analyzes the operational performance and business strategy execution of the publicly-traded companies among other factors. Exelis has an operation in Panama City, Fla., that develops mine defense systems. (Post)

Jacobs Technology, Bedford, Mass., was awarded a $23.5 million contract to provide engineering and technology acquisition support services using established government, contractor, and industry processes. Work will be performed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and other bases and is expected to be complete by Nov. 30, 2015. … EADS-NA, Herndon, Va., now Airbus Helicopters, was awarded a $55.4 million contract modification to procure 10 UH-72A Lakota helicopters with ARC-231 radios. Work will be performed Columbia, Miss. … Textron Systems, Wilmington, Mass., was awarded a $17.3 million contract modification for the completion of mission control unit software development and aircraft integration for the sensor fuzed weapon. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Long Range Systems Division, Eglin AFB, is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $101.9 million contract modification that provides for non-recurring engineering and sustainment tasks for mission systems software and autonomic logistics development of the F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing Air System for the government of Israel under the Foreign Military Sales Program. Eglin AFB is the F-35 training center.

Admiral: Rear Adm. (lower half) Brian B. Brown, selected for promotion to rear admiral and current commander of Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command at Stennis Space Center Miss., will be assigned as deputy commander, Joint Functional Component Command Space, U.S. Strategic Command, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Post)
HII: Huntington Ingalls Industries of Newport News, Va., parent of Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., entered an agreement to acquire UniversalPegasus International Holdings, a provider of engineering and project management services to the domestic and international energy markets. (Post)
Contract: Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $12.2 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise options for DDG 51 class follow yard services. (Post)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Week in review (5/4 to 5/10)

During the week we had a story in our daily news digest that points out the connections you can find within this aerospace region. The item I’m talking about tied together Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Mobile, Ala., and Stennis Space Center, Miss.

An Airbus A350 XWB for the next couple of weeks will be undergoing extreme weather testing at the McKinley Climatic Lab at Eglin. It’s a follow-up to earlier tests on location in the Middle East and Northern Canada.

The aircraft and its various systems and cabin installations will be subjected to the extreme hot and cold temperatures that the unique facility can sustain in a testing environment. Certification of the A350 is anticipated in the third quarter of this year with entry into service in the fourth quarter. (Post)

That story is interesting to the folks around in and around Mobile because a sister aircraft of the same company, the A320, will be built there, and it's also the home of an Airbus Engineering Center and Airbus Military operation. And for South Mississippi residents? It's interesting because the Rolls Royce XWB engines are tested at Stennis Space Center.

Those kinds of stories aren't really rare. The ninth annual Emerald Warrior military exercise wrapped up Friday. Sponsored by the U.S. Special Operations Command, it involved different military branches and was held at Hurlburt Field, Eglin and Apalachicola, all in Florida, Camp Shelby and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, and Pelham Range, Ala. (Post)

I just mentioned Camp Shelby, so I'll segue to an item about logistics. Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, south of Hattiesburg, and the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Logistics, Trade and Transportation will work together to strengthen the intermodal logistics hub opportunities for the base. (Post)

The F-35 fleet, which surpassed 16,000 cumulative program flight hours to date in April, flew a monthly record high for System Development and Demonstration with 282 flight hours and 153 flights in April. Operational F-35s at Eglin Air Force Base flew 515 flight hours in April. The 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin is home to 48 F-35A/B/Cs and provides training for pilots and maintenance personnel. (Post)

On the procurement front, Turkey said during the week that it plans to buy its first two F-35A fighters, and still plans to eventually buy 100 of them for $16 billion. The Turkish government said in a statement that its commitment to the F-35 program "continues strong as ever." (Post)

Airbus Americas posted two new positions during the week for its A320 final assembly line being built at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. One is for a customer manager and the other a station coordinator. The assembly line will open in 2015 and the first plane will be delivered in 2016. (Post)

In another item involving the Aeroplex, three buildings at the former military base will be converted as part of a partnership between the Mobile Airport Authority and Bishop State Community College to establish the Alabama Aerospace Innovation and Research Center. The idea is to set up a place that will be a home away from home for Alabama research institutions that want to do collaborative aerospace work with tenants at the Aeroplex. (Post)

-- Airbus Group executive Jean Botti was scheduled to delivered the commencement address at the University of South Alabama in Mobile Saturday. Botti is the chief technical and innovation officer at the company. (Post)

-- Triumph Aerostructures-Vought Aircraft Division was picked by Airbus to furnish the wing reinforcement kit that allows for the installation of Sharklets on the Airbus A319 and A320 in-service aircraft. Production will be done at the company’s Nashville, Tenn., facility, with first delivery expected early 2015. (Post)

-- A $25.5 million modification to a contract to exercise an option for contractor logistics support on the Lakota Utility Helicopter (UH-72A) was awarded to Airbus Helicopters. Work will be done in Columbus, Miss. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Ala., is the contracting activity. (Post)

NASA engineers achieved a milestone May 1 as they prepare to test RS-25 rocket engines that will power the first stage of the Space Launch System (SLS). A-1 test stand operators completed a cold-shock test of the new structural piping system needed for the RS-25 engine. That sets the stage for engine hotfire tests this summer.

Four RS-25 engines – which were used to power the space shuttles -- will power the SLS. The core stage of that SLS is being built at Michoud Assembly Facility, which also built the first space-bound Orion crew vehicle.

The SLS is being built for NASA to carry humans to deep space, including asteroids and eventually Mars. Renovation of the A-1 Test Stand at Stennis has been under way since last fall to accommodate the RS-25. (Post)

In another SLS item during the week, Birmingham's Brasfield & Gorrie won a $45 million contract to build two stands at Marshall Space Flight Center, Ala., to test the fuel tanks and other key hardware of the SLS.

One stand will be 215 feet tall and will test the SLS liquid hydrogen tank. The second stand will be 85 feet tall and will test the liquid oxygen tank of the new rocket. The stands will take about a year to build with construction will begin late this month.

The core stage of the SLS is 200 feet tall, larger than the 75-foot tall Saturn V first stage. The core is composed of two fuel tanks, a main engine compartment, an intertank ring to join the two tanks and a top ring to attach the core to the Orion upper stage. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin completed the propulsion module for the fourth Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO-4) space vehicle and is now proceeding with satellite assembly, integration and test.

The SBIRS satellites provide continuous early warning of ballistic missile launches and other tactical intelligence. Final assembly and test of the GEO-4 satellite’s propulsion module occurred earlier this year at Lockheed Martin’s Mississippi Space & Technology Center at Stennis Space Center. The propulsion module maneuvers the satellite during transfer orbit to its final location and conducts on-orbit repositioning maneuvers throughout its mission life. (Post)

In another satellite news item involving Stennis Space Center, two modules of the first GOES-R series weather satellite spacecraft have been delivered to a cleanroom at Lockheed Martin's Space Systems facility near Denver.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R series (GOES-R) is NOAA's next-generation geostationary weather satellites. The propulsion module of the A2100-based satellite recently underwent integration of its engines, fuel tanks and various propulsion components at the company's Mississippi Space and Technology Center at NASA's Stennis Space Center. (Post)

-- An injunction that kept the Air Force and United Launch Alliance from buying Russian-made RD-180 engines for launch vehicles has been lifted. The injunction was issued April 30 after SpaceX filed suit, saying the purchases violated sanctions on Russian officials in the wake of the Ukraine situation. But letters submitted to the court by the departments of State, Treasury and Commerce said the maker of the engines, NPO Energomash, is not subject any of the sanctions. (Post)

The MQ-8C Fire Scout will be tested at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., for its ability to operate safely in the intense electromagnetic environment aboard U.S. Navy ships. The MQ-8C uses specially-designed Faraday cages to protect sensitive equipment on the aircraft from signal interference.

The Faraday cages are built by Summit Aviation in Somerset, Ky., and installed during final assembly at Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss. Since first flight in October the MQ-8C has flown 102 flights. (Post)

-- There was another item late in the week on unmanned systems that caused some concern. A UAV almost hit a US Airways plane about five miles from Florida's Tallahassee Regional Airport back in March. That's what a pilot told the FAA.

The plane was a Bombardier CRJ2 regional jet, and it was flying at 2,300 feet when it passed what appeared to be a remote-controlled aircraft. American Airlines Group, which owns US Airways, is investigating.

There have been at least six other incidents since September 2011 in which pilots have reported close calls with unmanned aircraft. The pilot said it looked like a high-end model airplane built to look like a jet fighter. (Post)

Two reserve colonels in New Orleans have been nominated for promotions. They are Marine Corps Reserve Col. Helen G. Pratt and Marine Corps Reserve Col. Patrick J. Hermesmann. Both were nominated for appointment to the rank of brigadier general. Pratt is deputy commander, 4th Marine Logistics Group, and Hermesmann is vice chief of staff, Marine Forces Reserve. (Post)

NSC: Ingalls Shipbuilding launched the U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter James (WMSL 754) last weekend. (Post)
Navigation: New Orleans hosted a Future of Navigation-21st Century Waterways sessions Wednesday at Port of New Orleans Place. (Post)
JHSV: The Navy's first-in-class Joint High Speed Vessel, USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1), left the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations last week after more than three months deployed within the European and African theaters. (Post)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Week in review (4/27 to 5/3)

There was a fascinating item from New Orleans late in the week that could have a big impact on this region. NASA on Thursday issued a notice in federal business opportunities saying that it's looking for partners to develop under-utilized green space around Michoud Assembly Facility. (Post)

NASA says development of the green space is an integral part its "vision" for transforming the facility. The notice doesn't specify what that vision is, but I can tell you what NASA was thinking back in 2008.

I was the editor of Alliance Insight, former science and technology newsletter of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic Development, and I was writing a story about Michoud Assembly Facility when a NASA official in Huntsville, Ala., told me something that really caught my attention.

The way it was explained to me, NASA was well aware that the 830 acres around Michoud was not being utilized as well as it could be. In keeping with an agency that looks to the future, NASA wanted to turn the acreage into an advanced manufacturing research park, similar to Cummings Research Park in Huntsville.

Now if you don't know anything about Cummings, let me fill you in. It’s the second largest research park in the nation, fourth largest in the world. The most prestigious aerospace and defense companies in the world have operations at Cummings, and all that activity changed the one-time cotton town into one of the most high-tech regions of the country.

Doing something Cummings-like around Michoud really piqued my interest. There's a lot to be said about Michoud's capabilities. The building is huge, 43 acres under one roof. At the time I wrote the story for the newsletter, MAF was still building external tanks for the Space Shuttle program. That was scheduled to end in 2011.

But NASA at that point had already picked MAF to build structures for the Constellation Program. The thinking was MAF, the Constellation Program and the available acres could be a magnet. And it's no small matter that MAF happens to be the home of the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

Now fast forward to 2014. NASA has apparently not dropped the idea, and issuing the notice is significant not only for New Orleans, but for South Mississippi and Stennis Space Center some 40 miles away. SSC itself has 3,900 acres of green space it says is ready for development.

It doesn't take much to envision what could happen. Both Michoud and SSC are involved not only in NASA programs, but commercial space programs as well. MAF is where NASA's Orion spacecraft and the core stage of the Space Launch System are being built. It's also being used by Lockheed Martin to build composite components for Sierra Nevada's shuttle-like Dream Chaser spacecraft.

SSC is where NASA and commercial engines are tested. The most recent commercial company to set up shop at SSC is SpaceX, one of the really hot companies in the commercial space game. If all the pieces fall into place, the Stennis-Michoud corridor could take off as a major research and advanced manufacturing center.

Now step back for a moment and look at the entire region between New Orleans and Northwest Florida and the aerospace activity that are in place. You have space activities in the western portion, aircraft assembly in the center in Moss Point, Miss., and Mobile, Ala., and military aviation and weapons development in Northwest Florida.

A lot of sharp folks in this region embrace the idea that there's something to be said for showing off the capabilities of the entire region. Yes, economic development is local, but it swims in a regional pool. Troy Wayman, vice president of economic development for the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, put it succinctly at this week's World Trade Conference at Pensacola Beach.

Mobile of course points out its considerable capabilities and assets when talking to a prospect, but Wayman said it also claims the assets of its neighbors to the east and west as its own. It's clear Mobile itself can't handle all the activities that will come over time as a result of Airbus building A320s in Mobile. So why not point out the benefits of the rest of the I-10 corridor early and often.

The trade conference I mentioned earlier? I went to one session about trade opportunities in the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor. The Airbus A320 final assembly line being built in Mobile, Ala., was of course discussed. The plant will open in 2015 and will produce its first plane in 2016. It will hit full stride around 2018.

Major sections for the A320s will be shipped to Mobile from Europe. And just how often will those shipments come in? Michelle Hurdle, director of economic and community development at Airbus in Mobile, said during the trade conference that originally the vision was one ship a month. Now? More like one ship a week, she said.

Europe's Airbus is just one example of foreign interest in the region. Crystal Sircy, senior vice president of business development for Enterprise Florida, that state's economic development group, said Florida is working 295 active economic development projects right now, and 35 percent are foreign direct investment. (Post)

-- Speaking of the Airbus plant, Rob't J. Baggett Inc., and B.L. Harbert International were awarded the final general contractor packages for the Airbus plant at the Mobile Aeroplex. (Post)

-- The Atlantic Council honored Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders with the 2014 Distinguished Business Leadership Award at its Annual Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C. Enders, who helped develop the close ties between Airbus and Alabama, accepted the leadership award from former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. (Post)

-- The U.S. Army's decision to buy 100 more UH-72 Lakota helicopters for pilot training improves the potential for international sales of the aircraft, according to company officials. Airbus builds the Lakota in Columbus, Miss. The Army had planned to conclude its purchase of 340 Lakota UH-72s in 2015. The company plans to deliver the 300th aircraft to the Army in the coming weeks. (Post)

There was a story this week that said President Obama's proposed 2015 budget drops funding for purchases of the Navy's Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. The story said Fire Scouts are built in Mississippi, home state of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

OK, a couple of things. Fire Scouts are not built in Mississippi. Yes, Northrop Grumman does use the term "final assembly" for what's done at Moss Point, Miss., but it's actually finishing work. The first variant of the Fire Scout, the MQ-8B, used a Schweizer 333 built in New York. That company, by the way, was purchased by Sikorsky.

The current MQ-8C variant uses a Bell 407 that’s built in Canada. From Canada it's sent to Ozark, Ala., where the manned flight equipment is removed. It then goes to Moss Point, where workers fit it with unmanned systems architecture.

The second thing: This is the president's proposed budget, and who knows what it will say after it goes through Congress. Remember when the Pentagon wanted to kill the Global Hawk Block 30 because the U-2 supposedly did a better job? Well the U-2 is going away and Global Hawk is staying, and there are multiple variants of the unmanned aircraft to boot.

There was also a story pointing out that Fire Scout breached the Nunn-McCurdy Amendment for cost overruns, putting it at risk of being killed. But Navy officials said the Fire Scout’s redesign, including the shift to the larger Bell helicopter, is the main reason for the cost increase.

Here's something else to think about when it comes to the Fire Scout and drones as a group. Retired Marine Col. Robert Work was confirmed by the Senate at the end of last month as the new deputy secretary of defense. The former Navy undersecretary in July 2011 questioned whether the Navy's F-35C program could be reduced in favor of more unmanned systems.

One final thing with Fire Scout. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in San Diego the other day was awarded a $10.8 million contract for the development and integration of a Multi Capability Pod (MCAP) onto the MQ-8C Fire Scout, which provides multiple electronic warfare sensors for employment in the littorals.

I wouldn't bet against Fire Scout.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression when I pointed out that Bob Work in the past questioned the F-35C program. I mainly used that to show his belief in the future of drones. The F-35 program, A, B and C models alike, will be with us a long long time. And that means training F-35 pilots and maintainers at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be with us for a long long time.

This week, Pratt and Whitney Military Engines of East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $105.2 million contract to procure long-lead components, parts and materials in support of 34 low rate initial production Lot IX F-135 propulsions systems for the F-35.

That includes 26 F-135-PW-100 for the Air Force F-35A; six F-135-PW-600 for the Marine Corps F-35B; and two F-135-PW-100 for the Navy F-35C. In addition, the contract provides for the procurement of 13 F-135-PW-100 and 6 F135-PW-600 systems for international partners and foreign military sales customers.

Work will be done in East Hartford (67 percent); Indianapolis, Ind., (16.5 percent); and Bristol, United Kingdom (16.5 percent); and is expected to be completed in September 2017. The contract combines purchases for the U.S. Air Force (31 percent); the U.S. Navy (26 percent); international partners (35 percent) and international participants (8 percent). (Post)

One thing you've got to admit. Elon Musk is shaking things up.

The head honcho at SpaceX said late last week that he was going to sue the Air Force over awarding a multibillion-dollar contract to United Launch Alliance without seeking any bids. The company did just that on Monday.

A U.S. court issued a preliminary injunction late Wednesday blocking ULA, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, from buying Russian-made rocket engines. The ruling blocks payments to any entity subject to the control of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, including the Russian state-owned company that makes the rocket engines.

Rogozin heads Russia's defense industry and space program, and is on a sanctions list over the crisis in Ukraine. The injunction could be lifted if the U.S. Treasury, Commerce Department or State Department reviews the deal and finds it does not violate sanctions. (Post)

The Russian-made RD-180 that has powered ULA’s Atlas V for 20 years now isn't the only Russian-made engine used by American companies. Aerojet Rocketdyne's AJ-26 engines is a modified versions of the Russian-built NK-33 and NK-43 engines, which is no longer built. Tested at SSC, the AJ-26 powers Orbital Science's Antares rocket, used to launch the Cygnus spacecraft on cargo missions to the International Space Station.

SpaceX is one of the new kids on the block when it comes to the space program. It's already doing supply runs to the International Space Station, and has made no secret that it also wants to get involved in deep-space missions and, apparently, the satellite launch game cornered by ULA.

The I-10 region has reason to follow SpaceX and its exploits. It will be testing its deep-space rocket engine at Stennis Space Center, Miss. There's also reason to follow the activities of United Launch Alliance. Its Delta IV rocket, also used to launch satellites for the government, uses RS-68 engines tested at SSC.

One more "connection" if you will: ULA partner Lockheed Martin builds satellite core propulsion systems at SSC.

-- Alliant Techsystems (ATK) of Arlington, Va., is merging its aerospace and defense segments with Orbital Sciences, a Dulles-Va., commercial space firm. The $5 billion transaction is expected to be completed later this year.

The new company will be Orbital ATK, based in Dulles. ATK, a major ammunition maker, is spinning off its hunting gear segment into a separate company. ATK is looking to bolster its aerospace business and Orbital Sciences hopes to boost the scale of its existing operations and gain a foothold in the defense sector.

Last year Orbital's Cygnus spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station, the second commercial company to do so after SpaceX. ATK is also involved in space activities, building aerospace structures and rocket engines. This month it received a contract from ULA to deliver hardware for the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.

Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket is powered by AJ-26 engines tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss.; ULA's Delta IV is powered by RS-68 engines tested at SSC; ATK also has operations in Huntsville, Ala., and an aerospace structures business in Iuka, Miss. (Post)

-- NASA picked 383 research and technology proposals for negotiations that may lead to contracts worth a combined $47.6 million. The proposals, from 257 U.S. small businesses and 29 research institutions, are part of NASA's Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program. Eight selected proposals involve technology being administered by the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

-- A host of products, including three with ties to Stennis Space Center, Miss., are featured in Spinoff 2013, an online publication that highlights commercial products created using NASA-developed technology. The SSC products include cloud based data sharing for emergency managers, an early warning system to identify potential threats to the nation's forests, and smart sensors to monitor components on rocket engine test stands in order to avert equipment failure. (Post)

The ninth annual Emerald Warrior military exercise got underway Monday in Northwest Florida and will continue until May 9. It's sponsored by the U.S. Special Operations Command, and is considered the premiere irregular warfare exercise.

Last year about 1,900 service members from different branches participated, and organizers expected the number to be about the same this year. About 90 aircraft will participate in the exercise, which includes Hurlburt Field, Eglin Air Force Base and Apalachicola, all in Florida, Camp Shelby and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, Pelham Range, Ala., and Melrose Range, N.M.

Participants interact using not only actual aircraft and personnel, but virtual simulators and computer-generated emulators that will interact in a live scenario. (Post)

-- A Navy T-34C training aircraft crashed during a routine mission over the Gulf of Mexico during the week. The student-pilot and instructor from Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas' Training Squadron 28 (VT-28) bailed out. T-34C Turbo Mentors have been used in primary naval aviation training for more than two decades, but have been replaced by the T-6A Texas aircraft at Florida's Naval Air Station Whiting Field's Training Air Wing Five. (Post)

The publication Airline Weekly said Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans was the fastest growing United States airport in terms of passenger traffic from 2012 to 2013. The 7 percent growth rate beat Houston, Austin and San Jose, Calif., which all showed 6 percent growth. (Post)