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.

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