Saturday, August 16, 2014

Week in review (8/10 to 8/16)

NASA is looking at two proposals to develop green space around the 43-acre Michoud Assembly Facility in east New Orleans. The federal agency in early May issued a notice seeking input from parties interested in developing some 300 acres of green space around the complex.

No details are available at this point about the proposals, but it's not surprising that there would be interest. This is all happening at a time when commercial companies are getting more and more involved in space. And the Stennis-Michoud area has a lot to offer.

Michoud is a huge production facility with a history of building large aerostructures for NASA programs. It's just off Interstate 10 and where production work was done on the first space-bound Orion. It's also where the core stage of the Space Launch System is being built, and the site where composite structures for Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser are being built.

The acreage around Michoud would be ideal for a variety of space-related activities of commercial companies. And keep in mind, while initially these companies are taking on cargo missions to the International Space Station, plans go well beyond that. Some are intent on setting up habitats in space.

What makes the Michoud acreage even more appealing is that some 40 miles away is Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The center for rocket engine testing also has acreage available for development, as well as underutilized facilities being offered for space-related ventures.

To read Lisa Monti’s newsletter story on Michoud and the development proposals, click here.

Nine Airmen are now the first Air Force recruits to graduate initial skills technical training as F-35 crew chiefs. They completed Mission-Ready Airmen training at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., earlier this month.

The airmen went through months of training within the 82nd Training Wing that spanned two bases and three squadrons. After basic training, they headed to Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, for aircraft fundamentals with the 362nd Training Squadron.

Then it was on to Eglin, first for F-35-specific training with the 359th Training Squadron followed by Mission-Ready Airmen training with Detachment 19, 372nd Training Squadron. (Post)

Meanwhile, the Pentagon eased more limitations on flights of some F-35s. Limitations were imposed in the wake of a June 23 engine failure at Eglin. That fire led to the grounding of the F-35 fleet for more than three weeks.

Twenty-plus F-35 test planes now will be able to fly six hours between engine inspections, up from three. But test flights of dozens of F-35 trainers, operated by the Air Force and Marine Corps, are still subject to the three-hour mandatory engine inspections, according to the F-35 program office.

Some flight restrictions were already lifted last month. The cause of the fire aboard an F-35 as it was taking off at Eglin is still being investigated. (Story)

In another F-35 news item during the week, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $232.8 million modification to the previously awarded F-35 Low Rate Initial Production Lot VI contract.

The modification provides for non-recurring sustainment activities, including procurement of 19 training devices and 69 items of complex support equipment. Nearly all the work, 96 percent, will be done in Orlando, Fla., and is expected to be completed in June 2017. (Post)

A lot of what we write about when it comes to Lockheed Martin involves its operations elsewhere in the country. But the nation's No. 1 defense contractor has a fairly large footprint in the Gulf Coast region, including an operation at Fort Walton Beach that focused on the F-35 program.

Lockheed opened its Fort Walton Beach shop less than 20 years ago and now has 1,000 workers in the area. It provides much of the maintenance and support for the F-35 at Eglin, as well as most of the academic and simulator training. But it’s also involved in Eglin’s weapons programs, as well as other aircraft programs.

To read Will Rabb's newsletter story on Lockheed's Fort Walton Beach operation, click here.

While much of the fifth-generation fighter stories from this region are about the F-35, the Gulf Coast is also home to the F-22 fighter. Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., is home of an operational squadron, and also where Raptor pilots are trained.

Along those lines, the 43rd Fighter Squadron at Tyndall graduated eight F-22 Raptor B-course students in a ceremony earlier this month. The students completed an eight-month course of instruction, including 388 academic hours, 26 examinations, 39 sorties and 47 simulator missions.

The B-course entails transition and emergency procedures, instrument tasks, as well as day and night air-to-air refueling. The students are also educated on air-to-air employment, air-to-ground employment, basic low altitude employment and night employment.

At course completion, students have flown approximately 55 hours and are prepared to begin mission qualification training in their combat unit. Once complete with MQT these students will be fully qualified to employ the F-22 in an air dominance role. (Post)

Airbus during the week posted its latest round of hourly manufacturing positions for its A320 final assembly line being built in Mobile, Ala. Airbus is seeking candidates for systems installation, cabin interiors, sheet metal specialists, corrosion protectors, ground handling technicians, tool shop attendants and composite rework specialists. (Post)

In addition to A320 plant jobs, any supplier-related story is of interest to this region. That said, core assembly of the first pair of CFM International Leap-1A engines to power the Airbus A320neo is underway. The flight-test engines are being assembled at General Electric’s production facility in Durham, N.C. The engine competes with Pratt and Whitney's PW1100G for the A320neo market.

CFM International is a joint venture of GE Aviation, a division of General Electric, and Snecma, and division of France's Safran, which has an engineering center in Mobile. GE Aviation has an engine parts plant in Auburn, Ala., Ellisville and Batesville, Miss. (Post)

In another supplier-related story, Airbus signed a contract with the Aerospace Industrial Development Corp., a state-owned Taiwanese aerospace company, making it a new tier-one supplier. The company will supply composite panels for the aft belly fairings of the A320 aircraft family. As all of you who follow Airbus know, the company has an A320 final assembly line in Tianjin, China. (Story)

Officials at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) in West Bay near Panama City, Fla., hope a federal transportation grant will be key to landing daily air service from Bay County to New York City.

One airline is supporting the effort is JetBlue. ECP Director Parker McClellan said a letter of support from low-cost airline, and McClellan says it will give the Airport Authority some teeth as it seeks funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Grant.

The letter says the airline is considering service to Northwest Florida from Kennedy International Airport as part of its five-year growth plan. (Post) By the way, if you like to spot other connections to the Gulf Coast region, JetBlue is the airline that will take delivery of the first A320 being built in Mobile.

Company profile
If you took a look at our bi-monthly newsletter, you know that one of our goals is to highlight aerospace companies in this region. One that we tackled was TPR Systems Inc., which is already expecting to grow. The company, begun in 2002 and formerly named Turbine Parts and Repair, recently relocated to the Santa Rosa County Industrial Park in Milton, Fla.

Its new site has an extra 2.5 acres for expansion for the company that specializes in machining and manufacturing, but can also do repairs and testing on existing equipment. TPR Systems Chief Operations Manager Chuck Pyritz expects the company to need the space in two years. To read Duwayne Escobedo's story on the company, click here.

Another company we highlighted was Star Aviation of Mobile, Ala. It's marking its 15th anniversary this month, and has grown from a five-man operation to a company with 115 employees. So what does it do?

The ability to text, email and surf the Web on a jet flying tens of thousands of feet above the earth is taken for granted by travelers these days. But behind the scenes there are companies like Star Aviation working to make that happen.

Gordon Smart, executive vice president of operations, says the goal over the next five years is to grow the company by 30 to 50 percent. Not bad. To read Kaija Wilkinson's newsletter story on the company, click here.

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $240.7 million modification for three Block 30M RQ-4B Global Hawk air vehicles, each containing an Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite and an Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP), plus two additional ASIP sensors as retrofit kits. Global Hawk central fuselage work is done in Moss Point, Miss. … HDR Engineering Inc., Pensacola, Fla., Thompson Engineering Inc., Mobile, Ala., and Baskerville-Donovan Inc., also of Mobile, were among five companies awarded a $36 million contract for architect and engineering services to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers design program for the Mobile District's Central, South America, Caribbean, and South Atlantic Division. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Mobile is the contracting activity.

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