Saturday, February 28, 2015

Week in review (2/22 to 2/28)

If you're interested in where future technologies are heading, you'll be interested to know researchers in Australia said they created two jet engines using 3D printing, a world first in one of the most intriguing technologies that promises to change manufacturing.

The researchers from Melborne's Monash University used the template of a gas turbine engine from France's Safran to make the metal engines using 3D printing, invented in the 1980s. A 3D printer uses lasers to "print" objects from metals or plastics according to a digital design.

Wu Xinhua, from Monash University, said her team created the machines by pulling apart the old engine and scanning its components. The project took a year to complete. One of the engines is on display at the Australian International Airshow in Melbourne with the second in Toulouse at the French aerospace company Microturbo.

Forecasts show worldwide spending on 3D printing will rise from $1.6 billion in 2015 to around $13.4 billion in 2018. You can read a story by AFP in SpaceDaily or one by ComputerWorld.

OK, that's pretty impressive, but when you consider another first that was announced during the week, you start realizing all the rules are changing.

Researchers unveiled a software system during the week that taught itself to play 49 different video games and went on to beat humans game-players on multiple occasions. That's interesting, but here's the really fascinating thing: The program discovered tricks its own programmers didn't know existed.

That's according to a team from Google-owned research company DeepMind, as reported in the scientific journal Nature. Learning directly from experience to master a wide range of tasks is the essence of artificial intelligence.

It brings us closer to a future where smart, general purpose robots can teach themselves to perform tasks, store a memory of trial and error and adapt their actions for a better outcome. I know an awful lot of flesh and blood types that can't do that very successfully. You can read the story by AFP in SpaceDaily.

Now for your week in review:

Airbus is talking to suppliers about raising production of the A320 family of aircraft to 50 a month as early as 2017. Airbus has asked suppliers to be ready to adjust to production of 48 aircraft a month during 2016, rising to 50 a month in 2017. The increase would stretch an existing target that calls for 46 of the single-aisle jets a month by the second quarter of 2016, up from a current rate of 42. (Post)

Airbus on Friday confirmed it will ramp up production of the A320 series to 50 a month in 2017 from a planned 46 a month in 2016. At the same time it will cut production of the wide-body A330 series to six a month early next year from the current rate of 10 a month. Airbus also said its net profit soared 59 percent last year.

The Airbus A320 final assembly line in Mobile is scheduled to open this year. The first major shipment of sections from Europe will arrive in June.

Israel signed a contract to buy 14 additional F-35 fighter jets for about $3 billion. The deal follows Israel's purchase in 2010 of 19 of the Lockheed Martin-built fighters. The ministry said an agreement to buy the 14 additional aircraft includes an option for another 17 of the planes. Israel's first two F-35s will arrive by the end of 2016. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center. (Post)

Meanwhile, the F-35 continues to mark more firsts. Scheduled "ski-jump testing" in Maryland is designed to test the plane's ability to take off from upward-sloping ski-jump ramps used on aircraft carriers like those operated by Britain and Italy. Another F-35 also is wrapping up extreme weather testing at McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The F-35 climate testing has been closely watched by the U.S. military and nine other countries that have placed orders: Britain, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands and Israel. (Post)

Economic development
In Florida, the Santa Rosa County Board of Commissioners during the week hosted a legislative delegation tour of Whiting Aviation Park as part of a funding request. The commission is requesting some $4.9 million for two years in special legislative appropriations for phase one and partial phase two construction of the 269-acre park. Whiting Aviation Park would offer access to 6,000 feet of Naval Air Station Whiting Field’s runway through an agreement between the Navy and the county. (Post)

-- The Okaloosa County Economic Development Council has been awarded a state grant that will partially be used to fund further study of the proposed unmanned vehicle test center outside Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The EDC has partnered with the University of Florida for the past five years to develop the Autonomous Vehicle Center test facility south of the college’s Research and Engineering Education Facility. The EDC was recently awarded a $285,000 Florida Defense Support Taskforce grant, which will used to help fund three major initiatives the EDC is undertaking, including the Advanced Energy Technology Center. (Post)

More than 1,600 people turned out to show an Army team their support for the aviation base in light of planned reorganizations. Before it makes a decision on how to implement cuts, the Army is sending teams to 30 installations. In a worse-case scenario, Fort Rucker could lose nearly 2,500 military and civilian personnel and take $600 million in budget reductions that may reduce from 900 to 600 the number of aviators trained at Rucker. The Army expects to have its final recommendation completed by summer. (Post)

-- After extensive renovations, the main post-security food and beverage concessions area at Florida’s Pensacola International Airport reopened. Einstein Bros. Bagels, Freshens, and the Pensacola Beach House bar and restaurant began serving customers during the week. The city’s contract with OHM Concessions Group is expected to generate more than $1 million in additional revenue for Pensacola International Airport. (Post)

Orbital Sciences doesn't plan to do acceptance tests of the RD-181 engines at Stennis Space Center, Miss. That's according to a story in Aviation Week about the engines Orbital Sciences chose to replace the Russian-built NK-33 engines. Those engines, modified by Aerojet as the AJ-26, had been tested at SSC before being used to power Orbital's Antares rocket on resupply missions to the International Space Station. The switch to Russian-built RD-181s followed the October 2014 failure of an Antares launch vehicle seconds after lifting off from Wallops Island, Va. The first shipment of the engines to Orbital ATK will be this summer. (Post)

The Bell 505 Jet Ranger X's second flight test vehicle successfully achieved its first flight. The Bell 505’s flight test vehicle one completed its first flight in November of last year. Bell Helicopter, a Textron company, broke ground in August 2014 on an 82,300 square-foot helicopter assembly plant in Lafayette, La., about 135 miles west of New Orleans, that will assemble Bell 505 Short Light Single helicopters. (Post)

Marion Blakey is leaving the Aerospace Industries Association to become the CEO and
president of Rolls-Royce North America. She's replacing James Guyette, who retires from Rolls-Royce May 31. Blakey, an Alabama native, has been with AIA, an industry organization, for eight years. Rolls-Royce has its outdoor engine testing facility at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, Calif., was awarded a $63.7 million advance acquisition contract for the procurement of long-lead components, material, parts
and associated efforts required to maintain the MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System
planned production schedule. Fuselage work on the Triton is done in Moss Point, Miss. … PRIDE Industries, Roseville, Calif., was awarded a $14 million contract modification for Department of Public Works-Base Operations at Ft. Rucker, Ala. Army Contracting Command at Ft. Rucker is the contracting activity. … Eight companies, including CB&I Federal Services, Baton Rouge, La., each have been awarded petroleum, oil and lubricant contracts to provide sustainment, restoration and modernization and clean, inspect and repair for petroleum, oil and lubricant systems at various locations worldwide. The maximum dollar value including the base period and four option years for all eight contracts combined is $800,000,000. AMEC Environmental & Infrastructure Inc. of Blue Bell, Pa., was awarded task order 0001 at $3.1 million for the cleaning, inspecting and repair of POL facilities at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. … Airbus Defense and Space Inc., Herndon, Va., was awarded a $28.3 million contract modification for contractor logistic support for 2015, which entails flying hours for various contract line item numbers within and outside of the continental United States, mission equipment packages and direct labor support. Work will be performed in Columbus, Miss. … South Alabama Regional Airport Authority, Andalusia, Ala., was awarded a maximum $13.4 million contract for jet fuel. Location of performance is Alabama, with a March 31, 2019 performance completion date.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Week in review (2/15 to 2/21)

The USS Independence, a littoral combat ship built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., arrived at Florida's Naval Air Station Pensacola's Allegheny Pier late in the week. It's in this area temporarily to test mine warfare capabilities in the Gulf of Mexico, and will dock at NAS Pensacola between sorties.

LCS 2 is an aluminum hull ship designed to operate in shallow, littoral regions. It has a flight deck designed for helicopters, including the unmanned Fire Scout helicopters built in part in Moss Point, Miss. To the east of Pensacola in Panama City, mine warfare is one area of expertise of the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

The ship's home port is in San Diego.

Lockheed Martin may need to update its F-35 software after issues arose during testing, but it should not delay Marines Corps plans to declare its variant ready for combat use in July. That's according to Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed-Aeronautics. He said some issues came up during radar tracking tests in the jet's mission systems software, but that they are manageable. The F-35 has had some software issues, but most of the problems have been worked out. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center and the U.S. Reprogramming Laboratory. (Post)

Boeing was awarded a $29.5 million contract to design and develop a beam control system for laser weapons on U.S. Navy ships. Boeing will begin to design a prototype High Power Beam Control Subsystem. The resulting beam control system will focus and hold a laser on a moving aim point long enough to disable the target. The Boeing beam control system capitalizes on the company’s work with the U.S. Army's High Energy Laser Mobile, which was tested at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., last year. The system was able to acquire, track and destroy targets in windy and foggy conditions. (Post)

-- In another item of interest to Eglin during the week, the Pentagon announced that Lt. Gen. Ellen M. Pawlikowsi was nominated to the rank of general with assignment as the commander of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Officials also announced the retirement of current AFMC Commander, Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger. No date was announced for the retirement and change of command. Eglin is an AFMC base. (Post)

-- Army Aviation leaders gathered at Fort Rucker, Ala., earlier this month for the annual Aviation Senior Leaders Forum. About 150 senior leaders attended. Key aviation topics included manned-unmanned teaming, modernization strategy, training and leader development, lessons learned from recently deployed combat aviation brigades, combined arms air-ground maneuver and enlisted training. Fort Rucker is
the home to Army Aviation training. (Post)

In Florida, the Okaloosa County Commission voted earlier this week to change the name of Northwest Florida Regional Airport to Destin-Ft. Walton Beach Airport, to take advantage of the two best-known names in that area of Northwest Florida. There was also some talk about using “international” and keeping “regional” in the name. But in the end, neither became part of the new name. The airport is at Eglin Air Force Base. (Post)

Meanwhile, further to the east, Marianna Airport Commerce Park during the week became the first certified site in Jackson County through Gulf Power’s Florida First Sites program. Florida First Sites program was created in 2013 to help communities prepare locations to attract new industries and new jobs to the region. Fourteen sites were initially submitted from public and private landowners. Of those 14 sites, five have been certified and five are still working toward their certification. The 237-acre Jackson County industrial site is owned by the City of Marianna and adjacent to the Marianna Municipal Airport. The airport has two 5,000-foot runways and features 214 contiguous acres that can be developed. (Post)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Week in review (2/8 to 2/14)

One of the most unique military aircraft based in the Gulf Coast region is the AC-130 gunship of the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach, Fla. The gunship is held in high-esteem by ground troops for its ability to provide a heavy-fisted pounding to ground targets as it circles in the air. The largest gun in its arsenal is 105mm cannon. It's like a flying tank.

But that classic configuration was altered in later models, and now the head of the command, Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, has decided the new model of the gunship, the AC-130J, should have the 105mm instead of relying on missiles for precision weaponry. He also wants to slow the rate of retirement of older AC-130s.

He says he won’t be able to maintain 37 AC-130s in service, but he wants to freeze the number at 26, which would include 14 AC-130Us and 12 AC-130Ws. The remaining Vietnam-era AC-130H Spectres will go away.

The U model, or Spooky, is the version that includes the 105mm. The W model, or Stinger II, is a new type gunship with smart missiles and small diameter bombs, but no gun heavier than 30mm. The J model, Ghostrider, was originally supposed to enter service looking a lot like the Stinger, but with room and enough power to mount the 105mm at some later point. Heithold wants to make that later point now.

Heithold says the 105mm is more accurate and cheaper than firing small diameter bombs. In addition, Heithold thinks the technology is mature enough that laser or directed energy weapons should be considered for gunships. For two good reads on the gunship and the issue of its firepower, take a look at last month's Breaking Defense or DefenseTech.

Now here's your week in review:

Three contracts were awarded to Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, during the week related to the F-35. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity for all three awards.

In one, the company was awarded a $39.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract for procurement of electronic components in support of F-35 aircraft for the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, international partners and the governments of Israel and Japan. These components are in support of production, sustainment and operations and maintenance requirements resulting from diminishing manufacturing sources. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas, and is expected to be completed in September 2015. (Post)

In another contract, Lockheed was awarded a $16.5 million delivery order against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement for the procurement and installation of vehicle management computer retrofit modification kits into designated aircraft that are critical to meeting F-35 requirements. Five percent of the work will be done at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Other work sites are in Texas, Utah, North Carolina, Arizona and California and is expected to be completed in August 2016. (Post)

In the third contract, the company was awarded a $14.5 million modification to a previously awarded contract to incorporate Block 3i requirements into the F-35 United States Reprogramming Laboratory, including software upgrade, hardware refresh, end-to-end demonstration and certification and accreditation. Work will be done in Fort Worth, Texas, and Orlando, Fla., and is expected to be completed in June 2016. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center and the F-35 U.S. Reprogramming Laboratory. (Post)

In addition, Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $9.4 million modification to the previously awarded contract is for common recurring sustainment and annualized and non-annualized common depot activation services in support of Low Rate Initial Production Lot VIII F135 propulsion systems. Work will be performed in Hartford and is expected to be completed in April 2017. The contract combines purchase for the Air Force, Navy/Marine Corps and the international partners. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. (Post)

The Pentagon's research agency plans its first in-air test to launch satellites from the underside of an F-15 fighter jet from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., later this year. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency plans to begin the initial flight-test phase of its Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program (ALASA) in a series of 12 orbital flights that would start in early 2016.

The first three orbital launches are engineering checkout payloads. Under the ALASA military space project, once the F-15 gets to a designated altitude, the rocket releases over the Atlantic Ocean and ignites, carrying its payload into orbit. ALASA’s goal is to make launching small payloads less expensive and more efficient. (Post)

-- Conrad Industries Inc. in Morgan City, La., received the NASA Space Flight Awareness Supplier Award for its work converting NASA’s Pegasus barge. Awardees are chosen based on their production of high-quality products, excellent technical and cost performance, and adherence to schedules. The barge, long used to transport shuttle external tanks for the Space Shuttle program, was lengthened from 260 to 310 feet to accommodate components for the Space Launch System program. The upgraded Pegasus is set to transport the first major SLS hardware from New Orleans to NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., for testing as early as next year. (Post)

The Air Force Research Laboratory's Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., released a solicitation for the Miniature Self Defense Munition Seeker Conceptual Design project. The initiative seeks to develop a conceptual design for the optics and algorithms of an affordable seeker front end for a defensive air-to-air weapon. Researchers tentatively plan to award two separate six-month contracts in April. (Post)

-- A Training Air Wing 5 helicopter from Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., made a hard landing during the week at Spencer Navy Outlying Landing Field in Pace. The helicopter rolled onto its right side while landing. The two pilots exited the helicopter on their own. (Post)

-- The 5th Special Operations Squadron at Duke Field, Fla., has added a new airframe to its list of Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft to train aircrews. The reserve squadron began C-146A Wolfhound formal training unit flights in December at Cannon AFB, N.M. The 49th SOS, a reserve operational squadron that will use the C146A, is scheduled to stand up at Duke Field in the fall. (Post)

Economic development
This year for the first time, a northwest Florida economic development group was the primary sponsor of the annual Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference in Seattle. Jennifer Conoley, economic development representative for Gulf Power, said the $15,000 sponsorship by Florida’s Great Northwest economic development group was a great way to get in front of the audience. (Post)

South Korea's Asiana Airlines signed a Letter of Intent with Airbus for the purchase of 25 A321neo single aisle aircraft as part of its ongoing fleet modernization program. Asiana will make a decision on its engine of choice for the aircraft at a later date. The A320 assembly line in Mobile, Ala., will open this year. Its first aircraft to be delivered in 2016 will be an A321ceo. (Post)

-- Airbus Defense and Space Inc., Herndon, Va., was awarded a $220.6 million modification to a contract to procure 41 72A Lakota Helicopters to include forty-one Airborne Radio Communications 231 Radios. Work will be performed Columbus, Miss. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Ala. is the contracting activity. (Post)

OASIS System LLC, Lexington, Mass., and COLSA Corp., of Huntsville, Ala., each was awarded $23.7 million modifications to previous contracts to provide additional diverse non-engineering, technical and acquisition management support services already being provided under the basic contract. Work will be performed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and is expected to be completed by July 31, 2015. Air Force Test Center, Eglin Air Force Base, is the contracting activity for both contracts.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Week in review (2/1 to 2/7)

The next edition of the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League bimonthly newsletter will be available Tuesday. It's an eight-page PDF with stories about aerospace activities in the I-10 region between New Orleans and Northwest Florida.

In the Feb. 10 issue, writer Kaija Wilkinson has a cover story about the Airbus A320 assembly line in Mobile, and the shipment that will bring in the aircraft sections from Europe. They'll become the first American-made Airbus jetliner, a JetBlue A321.

There's also a story by yours truly about Avalex Technologies, the Gulf Breeze company doing innovative work in the growing field of surveillance. Foreign sales are taking off, and Avalex has enough land and space that it could become the core of a high-tech park.

Writer Tom McLaughlin will tell you about DRS Training & Control Systems of Fort Walton Beach. It's an old dog, so to speak, of this region's defense contractors, but it's playing a key role improving training capabilities of the world's most advanced fighter, the F-35.

Last but not least, writer Connie Baggett will fill you in on the aviation activities in rural counties of South Alabama. You may be surprised just how much is going on in the area north of the more metropolitan coastal region.

You can find the newsletter Tuesday at the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor website. The download is free thanks to underwriters Gulf Power, Santa Rosa Economic Development and Mobile Airport Authority. If you prefer, you can subscribe to have the newsletter PDF delivered directly to your inbox. There’s no charge, and the list will never be used for anything else. Just drop me an email with subscribe on the subject line.

Now for your week in review:

Airbus' list of companies interested in buying A320 jetliners continues to grow. Avianca Holdings S.A. has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Airbus for 100 A320neo family aircraft, according to a press release from Airbus.

Avianca, of Bogota, Colombia, will base its fleet renewal strategy on the A320neo family, Airbus said. To date, the A320neo program has 245 firm orders from seven customers in Latin America: Avianca, Azul, Interjet, LAN, TAM, VivaAerobus and Volaris.

Airbus will open its A320 assembly line in Mobile, Ala., later this year. Other A320 assembly lines are in Germany, France and China. (Post)

Here's some good news for Moss Point, Miss., home of the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center that's involved in building portions of two robotic aircraft.

Northrop Grumman will begin production of four RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft systems for the Republic of Korea's air force. Those systems will provide wide-area intelligence gathering capabilities to military commanders in the allied nation.

Under a contract awarded Dec. 16, the company will work with the U.S. Air Force to deliver the systems starting in 2018. The contract is for four aircraft, two ground stations and supporting equipment.

It's the first time Global Hawk has been sold to an allied nation in the Asia-Pacific region under the Foreign Military Sales process. Moss Point will be handling the central fuselage work for those Global Hawks. (Post)

The Pegasus barge that was designed to transport Space Shuttle external tanks from New Orleans to Florida is well on its way to being supersized. Its new role will be to transport the huge Space Launch System stages being built at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The larger Pegasus is set to transport the first major SLS hardware from New Orleans to NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., for testing as early as next year.

The barge's final role in shuttle program was when it shipped Space Shuttle Main Engine ground support equipment to Stennis from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The barge was mothballed at Stennis in 2011, and is now being modified by Conrad Shipyard LLC in Amelia, La. (Post)

-- Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $36.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract for Space Based Infra-Red Systems (SBIRS) follow-on production. The contract is being modified to change the initial launch capability dates for SBIRS Geosynchronous Earth Orbit 3-4 space vehicles in order to support new launch manifest dates and procure storage for the GEO-3 space vehicle. Work will be done in Sunnyvale and will be completed by June 30, 2018.

Space and Missile System Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., is the contracting activity. But there's also a Gulf Coast connection. The SBIRS is an A2100 satellite-based spacecraft. Work on the A2100 core's propulsion system, which positions the spacecraft in orbit, is done at Stennis Space Center, Miss. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., of Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $35.6 million delivery order against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement to complete a Joint Strike Missile (JSM) risk reduction and integration study of the F-35 Air System for the government of Norway.

The objectives of the study are to further mature JSM weapon design and to ensure compatibility of the weapon with the F-35. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas, and Kongsberg, Norway, and is expected to be completed in March 2018.

The Naval Air Systems Command of Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center. (Post)

The city of Pensacola is looking at beefing up security at Pensacola International Airport with a high-tech electronic system that will cost $533,000 to install. That system will use cameras and motion detection software to stop people from entering the concourse area through the exit lane, which could allow passengers to bypass security. A visible or audible warning will alert airport personnel and automatically close doors to prevent access to the concourse area if someone enters the area through the exit lane. (Post)

-- The 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron will conduct flight and boat operations Monday through Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico some eight to 20 miles south of Destin and in Choctawhatchee Bay. Fighter aircraft will release munitions in the morning between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Gulf of Mexico within a cordoned, cleared surface range safety corridor. In the afternoon, around 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., approximately 30 boats will be used as visual targets by fighter aircraft and helicopters flying mid to low level altitudes. No weapons or ammunition will be involved in the flights in the Choctawhatchee Bay. (Post)

Northrop Grumman, Annapolis, Md., was awarded a $16.6 million delivery order to a previously awarded contract for the procurement of field upgradeable kits and fleet support for conversion of the AN/AQS-24A mine detecting sensor systems to the AN/AQS-24B configuration. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity.