Saturday, September 6, 2014

Week in review (8/31 to 9/6)

A story during the week about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter provided details for the first time on just what happened to the jet that caught fire at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., back in June. In addition, a separate story about the F-35 shows just how critical suppliers – and supplier honesty – is to a multibillion-dollar program.

First, the June 23 fire. Lt. Gen. Christopher Bodgan, head of the F-35 program, said during a Sept. 3 conference that the fire was caused by excessive rubbing of a fan blade inside the plane's Pratt and Whitney-built F135 engine. That we knew from earlier reports.

The Air Force Times wrote that Bogdan went into further detail for the first time on what caused the damage to the F-35 at Eglin, the training center for the fifth-generation fighter. Bogdan said the issue actually began three weeks before the fire when a pilot took the F-35 up and executed a two-second maneuver involving adding Gs, roll rate and yaw to the plane at the same time. That was "well within the envelope of the airplane," he said.

But those two-seconds led to the engine rubbing against a rubber piece at a much higher rate, and at nearly double the temperature than it was designed to do. That, in turn, led to what Bogdan called "microcracks" that over the next few weeks grew.

"And eventually on the day this happened, that fan-blade system just cracked too much, the whole circular part of that engine — through centrifugal force — stretched out and became a spear; that spear went up through the left aft fuselage of the fuel tank and it was the fuel tank that caused the fire," he said, according to Air Force Times.

Bogdan said no microcracks were discovered in other F-35s, but there were marks that indicate potentially similar, if lesser, issues. Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies, will cushion the cost of any retrofit that's necessary to fix the problem.

But that's not the only problem confronting Pratt and Whitney. According to the same article, the company in May discovered what it called "conflicting documentation" about the origin of titanium used in the F-35 engine, supplied from a Massachusetts firm called A&P Alloys. That led Pratt and Whitney to pause deliveries of the F135 while it investigated.

While Pratt has since determined that the titanium in the existing engines does not pose a flight risk – and has no connection to the fire aboard the F-35 – the company purged its supply of titanium and sued A&P Alloys. It dropped the company from its supply chain and also alerted federal authorities of the issue.

Flightglobal reports that the titanium in question came from Russia, and U.S. law prohibits the Defense Department from purchasing titanium from foreign sources.

Another publication, the Hartford Courant, provided a detailed look at the titanium issue, based on information from the suit. The paper covered the issue because Pratt and Whitney is a division of Hartford's United Technologies.

According to the suit, all the hunting for information, testing of titanium and replacement of parts that had already made it into delivered military engines cost Pratt & Whitney more than $1 million. The Courant points out that the case provides unique glimpse into how Pratt & Whitney maintains quality and compliance among its field of suppliers for hundreds of thousands of parts. With production increases on the horizon, the incident shows just how much the company relies on the honesty of its suppliers and redundant testing measures to keep the operation on track.

Commercial aviation
Airbus and Boeing both topped 1,000 new jet orders in the first eight months of the year, but Boeing is far ahead after adjusting for cancellations. Boeing also has delivered more planes this year than Airbus. The planemaking subsidiary of Airbus Group sold 21 aircraft in August, bringing its total gross orders for the year to 1,001 aircraft. Boeing booked 107 orders in the same month, bringing total gross orders for the year to 1,004.

Adjusting for cancellations, Airbus reported 722 net orders between January and August. That compares with 941 net orders for Boeing from Jan. 1 to Sept. 2, after accounting for 63 cancellations. Both companies have operations in the Gulf Coast aerospace region, including an Airbus A320 final assembly line being built in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

In another story, Boeing projected a demand in China for 6,020 new airplanes over the next 20 years. That information was in the company’s annual China Current Market Outlook. It shows Chinese carriers will take delivery of nearly 45 percent of the total demand for airplanes in the Asia Pacific region during the forecast period. (Post)

Speaking of China, the Airbus assembly line in Tianjin during the week received parts for the 200th A320 family aircraft, which will be delivered to China Eastern Airlines in December. Sections included the forward and aft fuselage, horizontal and vertical tail, main landing gear doors, inner flaps and engine pylons.

Those parts and components were produced at different Airbus sites in Europe and carried by a commercial cargo vessel from Hamburg to Tianjin. The wings for the jetliners assembled in Tianjin are produced in Tianjin by Xi'an Aircraft Industry Co., while the engines will arrive at a later date directly from the engine supplier. (Post)

-- Airbus posted three new positions during the week for its A320 final assembly line being built at Alabama's Mobile Aeroplex. The company is seeking power plant systems coordinator, engine quality inspector and paint quality inspector. The $600 million plant will open next year and produce its first plane in 2016. It expects to have 1,000 workers when it reaches full production. (Post)

Meanwhile, Airbus awarded a $10 million contract to Alaska's Alutiiq Pacific to provide security services at the Mobile plant. Alutiiq Pacific, a subsidiary of Afognak Native Corp., is providing security officers, fire and rescue services, surveillance, control center operation, entry and exit control, reception and more. Open positions will be posted at the Alutiiq jobs site. (Post)

Economic development
Three utilities that serve the I-10 region were among 10 singled out by Site Selection magazine for their economic development teams. The companies are Alabama Power of Birmingham, Ala., Entergy of New Orleans and Gulf Power of Pensacola, Fla. They were singled out for, among other things, job creation, innovative programs and incentives for businesses. (Post)

The Pensacola City Council will vote Tuesday on a proposed lease of Pensacola International Airport facilities to VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering. The company, which has had a maintenance, repair and overhaul operation in Mobile, Ala., since the 1990s, is expanding into Pensacola where it plans an MRO that will employ about 300 people at two hangars. The project is being funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, Escambia County, the city of Pensacola and BP oil spill money. (Story)

-- Southern Airways Express plans to shift its service at Florida's Destin Airport from seasonal to year-round this fall. Southern Airways Express will provide daily service from Destin to Memphis, Tenn., Atlanta and Jackson, Miss., and weekend service to Oxford, Miss. The Memphis, Tenn.-based airline launched its first flight in June 2013. The company operates a fleet of three, 10-seat Cessna Caravans. (Post)

-- Nearly a year after the groundbreaking, the Baldwin County school system's $2.7 million aviation training facility is still under construction at the H.L. "Sonny" Callahan Airport in Fairhope, Ala. If there are no weather delays, the building should be completed by the end of December and students will begin classes at the site in January. (Post)

The Rolls-Royce composite carbon/titanium (CTi) fan system for the Advance and UltraFan engine designs has completed its most recent phase of testing at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The fan system underwent crosswind testing on a Trent 1000 Advanced Low Pressure System technology engine, ahead of flight testing on the 747 flying test bed based in Tucson, Ariz.

The CTi fan system includes carbon/titanium fan blades and a composite casing that reduce weight by up to 1,500 pounds per aircraft. Opened in 2007 and expanded in 2013 to include a second test stand, the 50-employee Rolls-Royce Outdoor Jet Engine Testing Facility at SSC is one of three Rolls-Royce test sites in the world. It conducts specialist development engine testing including noise, crosswind, thrust reverse, cyclic and endurance testing on all current Rolls-Royce large engine types. Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi is NASA's rocket engine test center. (Post)

Testing of a very different type was done recently at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., by Boeing and the U.S. Army. It involved the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD). In the test in maritime conditions, HEL MD targeting a variety of aerial targets. The 10-kilowatt, high energy laser was installed on an Oshkosh tactical military vehicle for the tests. Earlier HEL MD tests were done at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The next step is with a higher kilowatt unit. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $42.9 million
modification to a previously awarded contract for dual band telemetry, tracking and communications capability for the Space-Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbiting 5-6 space vehicles. The work will be done in Sunnyvale, but work on the internal propulsion system for the SBIRS is done by Lockheed Martin at Stennis Space Center, Miss. … Integrated Solutions for Systems Inc., Huntsville, Ala., was awarded a $10 million contract for enhanced lethality ordnance and modeling. Contractor will provide research and development in three research weapons core competencies: weapon effectiveness, damage mechanisms and energetic materials. Work will be performed at Huntsville. Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

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