Saturday, August 30, 2014

Week in review (8/24 to 8/30)

The Interstate 10 corridor is becoming quite the place for aircraft manufacturing.

Bell Helicopter broke ground during the week on an 82,300-square-foot helicopter assembly plant in Lafayette, La., some 135 miles west of New Orleans. That's where the company will assemble the new line of Short Light Single helicopters, the Bell 505, a five-seat, single-engine turbine helicopter.

The Lafayette Aircraft Assembly Center at the 14.5-acre airport site is funded by Louisiana and will be owned by Lafayette Regional Airport. It will be leased by Texas-based Bell. The new plant will create 115 new direct jobs and another 136 new permanent indirect jobs. Bell Helicopter will retain more than 60 jobs in the Lafayette area at two existing facilities that perform rotor blade and composite repair and overhaul. (Post)

Another helicopter, this one unmanned, is assembled to the east of Lafayette in Moss Point, Miss. The newest variant, the MQ-8C Fire Scout, uses a Bell 407 airframe. Moss Point is also where fuselage work is done for the Global Hawk family of unmanned aircraft.

Then keep going east and in Mobile, Ala., production will begin next year on another aircraft, this one the Airbus A320. That's the plane that’s received the most publicity from this region, and small wonder since it's a major inroad into this region by the European aircraft maker.

Keep heading east from Mobile and another helicopter, the Safari 400, is built in the small Interstate 10 town of Marianna. The two-seat helicopter is built by CHR International, and can be purchased either as a kit or assembled by the company.

From there you head to Jacksonville and you’ll find an Embraer plant in a hangar at Jacksonville International Airport. That's where Embraer and partner Sierra Nevada are assembling the A-29 Super Tucano light support aircraft.

If you want to take a look at other aerospace products made along the I-10 corridor, take a look at Chapter 1 of this year's Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor book. Aircraft assembly is just one aspect of the aerospace products made along the corridor.

The engine for the F-35 fighter continues to make headlines.

F135 engine-maker Pratt and Whitney briefly suspended delivery of the engine in May because of questions about titanium provided to a parts supplier. The company said Friday that it discovered conflicting documentation in late May that raised questions about the origin of the titanium.

The company determined that the material didn't pose a flight safety risk, and that the part will be replaced by attrition. A federal investigation is being conducted into the source of the titanium. Pratt and Whitney said it was no longer accepting parts made from material provided by the supplier. (Post)

In another F135 story during the week, Pratt and Whitney said it's close to performing tests on a potential design change for its F135 engine following a June fire aboard an F-35 fighter at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

That June 23 fire was caused by excessive rubbing of a fan blade inside the engine of an F-35A model, the Air Force variant. Inspectors are still investigating the root cause of the incident to determine if it was a manufacturing or design flaw. But the company nonetheless came up with an apparent fix. The fire hit as the plane was getting ready to take off. The incident forced the grounding of the F-35, which was not able to make two shows in the UK. (Post)

There were four contracts awarded during the week in connection with the F-35.

Pratt and Whitney Military Engines of East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $9.5 million modification to the previously awarded F-35 Low Rate Initial Production Lot VI contract. This modification provides for support equipment for the F135 propulsion systems to include handling, testing, and maintenance equipment and parts required to keep systems operational such as borescope inspection kits, main engine inlet covers, lift nozzle module slings, lift gearbox adapters, and water wash cart systems. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. (Post)

In another contract, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $122.2 million modification to a previously awarded F-35 Low Rate Initial Production Lot VI contract for the procurement of support equipment for the F-35 such as sensor covers, tool sets, vacuum clamp sets, and heat gun assemblies. The Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland is the contracting activity. (Post)

The company also was awarded a $20 million modification to the previously awarded F-35 Low Rate Initial Production Lot VI contract. This modification provides site activation efforts required for the stand-up of the United Kingdom Joint Strike Fighter Academic Training Center at Royal Air Force Marham, UK. The Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland is the contracting activity. (Post)

Also, the company was awarded an $8.2 million modification to the previously awarded F-35 Low Rate Initial Production Lot VI contract. This modification provides for the maintenance and support for the F-16 chase aircraft supporting the F-35. The Naval Air Systems Command is the contracting activity. (Post)

Military aircraft
While we're on the subject of military aircraft, here's a couple of additional items of interest to the Gulf Coast I-10 aerospace corridor.

The Air Force soon will finalize the conversion of a fleet of F-16s into unmanned target drone aircraft by shooting one with an air-to-air missile fired from an F-15. The missile will not have a warhead.

Boeing in 2010 was awarded the contract to convert retired F-16 A and C models into QF-16 drones to replace QF-4s, converted Phantom jets. Low-rate initial production in Jacksonville, Fla., is expected to begin in September. Most of those QF-16s will go to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

Interestingly, Boeing is studying the suitability of using the F-16 as an operational unmanned air vehicle like the General Atomics Predator or Reaper. (Post)

In another military aircraft story, the American Beagle Squadron returned to Tyndall after being deactivated for four years. The 325th Operations Group Adversary Air program became the 2nd Fighter Training Squadron during a reactivation ceremony Aug. 22, marking the return of the World War II American Beagle Squadron.

The new 2nd FTS' mission is to provide adversary threat replication. The Beagles fly T-38 Talons as adversaries against Tyndall's F-22 Raptors during training. The T-38 costs around six to seven times less than the F-22, and cost far less to fly. The 2nd FTS has 18 T-38s. (Post)

While we're on the subject military aircraft, there was an item in Politico during the week that said major defense contractors are getting smaller. The number of employees at the five largest U.S. defense firms dropped 14 percent from a peak in 2008, and 10 percent over the past decade, according to an analysis of employment figures filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The analysis included Lockheed Martin, Boeing's defense unit, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop. The five have in total eliminated 70,000 jobs since 2008, largely through layoffs, buyouts, attrition or, in the case of Boeing, moving employees to the commercial side of the business. (Post)

Commercial aircraft
Airbus Americas is hiring quality inspectors for its $600 million A320 final assembly line being built in Mobile, Ala. The company, which will eventually build 40 to 50 A320s a year in Mobile, is seeking both final assembly line and flight line quality inspectors. (Post)

-- China Aircraft Leasing reached an agreement with Airbus to buy four A320 jetliners for an aggregate basic price of about $375.6 million. The company also said in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange that it had signed agreements to lease two Airbus A320 aircraft to Sichuan Airlines and another four to Chengdu Airlines. (Post)

-- Bank of China’s aircraft leasing subsidiary, Singapore-based BOC Aviation, announced an order for 82 Boeing planes with a listed value of $8.8 billion. It includes 50 737 MAX 8s, 30 737-800s and two 777-300ERs. The announcement came less than six weeks after the company ordered 43 A320s from Airbus at the Farnborough International Airshow.

Meanwhile, French aerospace group Safran said BOC Aviation placed an engine order worth an estimated $2 billion with CFM International, a joint venture between Safran and General Electric. The order is for 100 LEAP-1B engines to power 50 new 737 Max 8 aircraft and 60 CFM56-7BE engines to power 30 next generation 737s. Safran has an engineering center in Mobile, Ala., and GE Aviation has engine parts plants near Hattiesburg, Miss., and Auburn, Ala. (Post)

-- India’s Air One Aviation Pvt. is seeking $2 billion worth of jets to take on Singapore Airline Ltd’s venture in the country. Air One, among six companies that last month got initial approval to start airlines in India, is looking at Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s. Air One plans to start full-service flights in mid-2015. (Post)

-- Qantas Airways has converted orders for 21 Airbus A320 aircraft into the re-engined A320neo variant and deferred the delivery by four years. This means Australia's flag carrier now has orders for 99 Airbus A320neos, and the airline said the move is part of the latest restructuring of its order book. (Post)

-- Rising demand for new airplanes from airlines around the world has increased shipments of engines and airplane parts from United Technologies’ aerospace division, consisting of Pratt and Whitney and UTC Aerospace System segments. UTC Aerospace Systems in Foley, Ala., is Baldwin County’s largest manufacturing employer, and does original equipment work and maintenance, repair and overhaul work on nacelle components. (Post)

-- General Electric has redesigned the engines that will power the Boeing 777X to have thinner and stronger blades than any GE engine in service. GE has designed advanced carbon-fiber composite fan blades for its GE9x engine, and the 777X will have two of them. It has been a decade since GE designed a new composite fan blade for the GEnx engine. IHI Corp., Snecma and Techspace Aero and MTU Aero Engines have also joined the effort to develop the GE9X. (Post)

Defense Support Services LLC, Marlton, N.J., was awarded a $14.9 million modification exercising option year six under the Aerial Targets contract. The modification provides for Air Combat Command Acquisition Management and Integration Center contracting and program management oversight to include functional and quality assurance support for the aerial targets program which directly supports live-fire weapons system testing and enables the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group in the developmental and operational weapons testing for all air-to-air missiles, and for the F-22, F-35, F-16, and F-15 aircraft. Work will be performed primarily at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. … Science Applications International Corp., McLean, Va., was awarded a maximum $144 million contract for supply chain management of industrial hardware used in aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul. Locations of performance are Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and California, with a Sept. 30, 2017, performance completion date. … Whitesell-Green Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was among six companies awarded a $537.8 million contract for construction services for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Southwestern Division and other Southwestern Fort Worth and Southwestern Division on a limited nationwide basis. Work and funding will be determined with each order. … Bell-Boeing Joint Project Office, Amarillo, Texas, was awarded $21.4 million delivery order 0096 against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement for non-recurring engineering in support of the MV-22 Integrated Aircraft Survivability Equipment Universal Urgent Needs Statement Effort. Four percent of the work will be done in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. … Areté Associates, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $10.3 million modification to previously awarded contract for engineering services in support of AN/DVS-1 Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) Block 1 program. The primary mission of AN/DVS-1 COBRA is to conduct unmanned aerial tactical reconnaissance in littoral battle space for detection and localization of mine fields and obstacles in the surf zone and beach zone prior to amphibious assault. The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity. … M1 Support Services, Denton, Texas, was awarded a $17.7 million modification, exercising option year three to the fixed-price-plus-award-fee contract to continue T-38 program management, organizational and intermediate maintenance services support for Air Combat Command's T-38 Companion Trainer program. Some of the work will be performed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

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