Saturday, April 25, 2015

Week in review (4/19 to 4/25)

A new ranking of aerospace manufacturing attractiveness, a radar test on a Triton maritime surveillance drone, the aerial refueling of an X-47B drone, a contract for metrology services at the Airbus plant in Mobile, problems with the F-35 maintenance software, and an upcoming Navy test of a railgun were some of the stories during the week of interest to the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor.

Here's the week in review:

Economic development
Florida is No. 1 when it comes to aerospace manufacturing attractiveness. That's according to the latest study by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The 2015 Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness Rankings has the United States ranked No. 1 of 142 countries, and within the United States Florida tops the list. Alabama is No. 22, Mississippi No. 30 and Louisiana 36.

The analysis looks at how countries and states in the U.S. compare in terms of their attractiveness as locations for commercial aircraft manufacturing. The 2015 report ranked states on tax rates, industry size, operating cost and education. The study used a weighted average of variables such as costs, workforce and number of aerospace companies in each state.

Florida is home to more than 2,000 aerospace and aviation companies that employ more than 82,000 workers. (Post) The state is part of the Aerospace Alliance, which also includes Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. That group had its spring summit at the Embry-Riddle campus in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday and Friday.

The non-profit was created in 2009 and had its first summit in Sandestin, Fla. The next one was in New Orleans, followed by a summit in Huntsville, Ala. The focus this year was on workforce training and the future workforce.

The Navy has launched flight tests on the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton of one of the first active electronically scanned array radars with 360-degree coverage developed exclusively for the maritime patrol mission. The multifunction active sensor (MFAS) completed first flight onboard the unmanned MQ-4C on April 18 following risk reduction phase testing on a Gulfstream GII.

The tests on the MQ-4C are critical to a Navy decision at the end of this year on whether to launch low-rate initial production of a Triton fleet, expected to number 70 aircraft. The unmanned Triton, the Navy's variant of a Global Hawk, is designed to augment the Navy's manned fleet of P-8A maritime patrol aircraft in broad area maritime surveillance missions.

Triton fuselage work is done by Northrop Grumman in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

Another Northrop Grumman-built unmanned system, the X-47B, successfully conducted the first Autonomous Aerial Refueling of an unmanned aircraft April 22. It happened off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, and was the final test objective under the Navy's Unmanned Combat Air System demonstration program.

The X-47B, which in earlier Navy tests showed it could catapult off a carrier deck and make arrested landings, connected to a tanker aircraft and received over 4,000 pounds of fuel. Earlier in the month, the X-47B successfully hooked up with the tanker but no fuel transferred. (Post)

ATT Metrology Services Inc., of Issaquah, Wash., was awarded a contract by Airbus for metrology services at Airbus' $600 million facility being built in Mobile, Ala. The company provides precision measurement and alignment services. It will build out an existing structure to house a 5,000-square-foot lab that should be operational when the aircraft manufacturer begins production this year.

The company's clients in the aerospace sector include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Bombardier, Bell Helicopters and others. The Mobile Aeroplex facility represents a capital investment of between $200,000 and $300,000, and will have four to eight workers, according to the Mobile Register. (Post)

The F-35 logistics information system has drawn the attention of key lawmakers who got an earful from F-35 maintenance crews during a visit to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The autonomic logistics information system, or ALIS, monitors every component of the aircraft and alerts operators of any breakdowns. At least that's what it's supposed to do.

The complaints heard by members of Congress range from the user-unfriendliness and slow response to queries to the high frequency of false alarms. Military aviation experts said some of these issues are temporary and should be expected in new programs. Other shortcomings might take years to fix. Program Executive Officer Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan visited Eglin this week to personally look into the issues raised by the committee. (Post)

The first at-sea test of the Electromagnetic Railgun will be done in the summer of 2016 near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The BAE Systems designed test gun will be mounted on the USNS Trenton, built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., and taken to Eglin’s maritime test range.

It will fire a series of hypervelocity projectiles fitted with GPS electronics at a barge floating in the Gulf of Mexico. The rail gun uses high powered electromagnetic pulses instead of chemical propellants to fire projectiles that can move at seven times the speed of sound. The kinetic energy can accelerate a 45-pound projectile from zero to 5,000 mph in less than a second. (Post)

HX5, Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $24.2 million cost reimbursable contract for advisory and assistance services. Contractor will provide A&AS for the Munitions Division and the Range Systems Branch to support of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. Work will be performed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and is expected to be complete by May 30, 2020. … Lockheed Martin, Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $14 million modification to a previously awarded contract for F-22 sustainment. Contractor will provide trainer hardware modifications, training system development, and distributed mission operations federation and integration. Work will be performed at Langley Air Force Base, Va.; Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.; Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas; and St. Louis, Mo., and is expected to be complete by Dec. 31, 2017.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Week in review (4/12 to 4/18)

An Air Force decision to keep C-130Js at Keesler; new flights between New Orleans and Pensacola; more responsibilities for Airbus Military in Mobile; kudos for the larger version of the Fire Scout; the first-ever aerial refueling of the X-47B drone; and a decision by a union to delay a vote in South Carolina were among the stories of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor during the week.

Here's the week in review:

The Air Force has abandoned plans to transfer C-130Js from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and deactivate the 815th Tactical Airlift Squadron. That's according to a release from Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss.

Palazzo said that since he first learned of the plan three years ago to move the 10 C-130Js, he has worked with Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., to ensure that would not happen. He said in the release that the Air Force "made the right decision" to keep the C-130Js at Keesler. (Post)

-- Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward announced that Silver Airways will begin daily service between Pensacola International Airport (PNS) and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) starting on June 16, 2015.

With the addition of the New Orleans service, Pensacola International Airport will offer non-stop service to 13 destinations. New Orleans becomes the fourth destination served by Silver from PNS, which also flies non-stop from Pensacola to Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville, with connecting service to Fort Lauderdale. (Post)

Airbus Defense and Space selected Airbus DS Military Aircraft Inc. at Mobile Regional Airport as the new worldwide support center for the C212 aircraft series, which is a pretty big deal for the Airbus operation that doesn't get nearly as much publicity as the still-being-built assembly line.

The C212 transport aircraft was designed to operate in austere environments for extended periods of time, without the need for ground support equipment. It is able to carry up to 25 people or a 6,200 pound payload. With a large customer base both in military and civil operations, North and South America are collectively home to the largest C212 fleet in the world.

The 50-worker Mobile operation, now in its 10th year, provides operators of the C212 and CN235 tactical transports with the capabilities of a certified FAA and European Aviation Safety Agency repair station. Last year, the company opened a new 7,500-square-foot component repair facility, expanding on its 30,000-square-foot maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) delivery center. (Post)

One interesting development in the region during the week was the announcement by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola that associate director John "Row" Rogacki will become deputy director of the Doolittle Institute of Fort Walton Beach.

The Doolittle Institute is a not-for-profit organization that was established to support the Air Force Research Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, in part by facilitating transfer of technology to and from the private sector.

The news release said Rogacki would continue working with IHMC in his new capacity at the Doolittle Institute. "The arrangement between IHMC and the Doolittle Institute allows us to form a mutually beneficial relationship for collaborations in research programs related to science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine," Rogacki said. "It really builds upon the strengths of both organizations.” (Post)

But the collaboration is likely to be even bigger than that. Back in October we had a story in the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League Aerospace Newsletter about the Doolittle Institute, and one of the things that Director Steve Butler said is that the institute, originally located at the University of Florida Research and Education Facility right outside Eglin, would maintain strong ties to REEF even though it moved to a new, more heavily trafficked location in Fort Walton Beach.

Rogacki, in fact, may be the perfect person to maintain those strong ties. He headed up REEF before he joined IHMC in 2010 and went to the IHMC operation in Ocala. The combined brainpower of IHMC, REEF and the Doolittle Institute might make for some interesting research.

As they say, stay tuned.

There will be no union vote at the Boeing plant in North Charleston, S.C., next week afterall. The International Association of Machinists withdrew its petition to for an April 22 vote to see if workers are interested in having a union at the North Charleston facilities. The union will not be able to file for a new election for at least six months. (Post)

The union activity in South Carolina is being closely watched in this region. The machinists have already said they are interested in representing workers at the Airbus plant that will open this year in Mobile.

-- DynCorp International has been recognized as a top veteran employer by Military Times for the fourth year in a row. Jim Geisler, DynCorp International chief executive officer, said some 70 percent of the company's workers are former military. Companies from across the U.S. were invited to complete survey about their efforts to recruit employees connected to the military, their company policies related to veterans, reservists and their families and the organization's culture. DynCorp International has employees in the Pensacola metro area. (Post)

NASA has selected 149 research and technology proposals from American small businesses and research institutions that will enable NASA's future missions into the solar system and beyond while benefiting America's technology-driven economy.

The selected aerospace technology and innovation projects have a total value of some $118.1 million, supporting 117 U.S. firms and research institutions in 26 states. Five selected proposals involve technology being administered by the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA's Stennis Space Center. (Post)

-- A technology company founded in South Mississippi to help coordinate resources and teams after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 now is the exclusive partner to provide technical support for all Google Geo Products, including Google Maps Engine, Google Maps API and Google Earth Enterprise.

Navigas, started at Stennis Space Center, is now headquartered in San Francisco. Its home office is in Jackson, Miss.

Craig Harvey, president of the Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions, a cluster of geospatial industries, universities and state and federal agencies along the northern Gulf Coast, said Navagis exemplifies the goals of the EIGS cluster. (Post)

The larger version of the MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned helicopter has completed 297 test sorties and is scheduled to begin initial operational testing and evaluation in 2016, the Navy program manager said.

The Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout is larger and faster and can fly longer than the MQ-8B and will reduce the burden of manned aircraft, Capt. Jeff Dodge told a briefing at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Exposition in Maryland. He told Seapower after the briefing that for the Navy, it’s a great fit.

The Navy has 23 MQ-8Bs and 19 MQ-8Cs, with five more C models that will be put on the contract this year, said Dodge. Long-term production plans are for two air vehicles per year between fiscal 2016 and 2023 for a total of 40 MQ-8Cs.

Final assembly on both variants of the Fire Scout is done in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

Meanwhile, another Northrop Grumman unmanned aerial vehicle, the X-47B carrier drone, had a first-ever aerial refueling off the coast of Maryland during the week. The aircraft’s refueling probe plugged into the hose of a KC-707 tanker. The X-47B used optical sensors and a camera to monitor its approach.

Although none of the X-47B is built in the Gulf Coast region, this is of high interest because naval aviators receive initial training in Florida’s Pensacola and Milton. (Post)

The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed a $1.54 million civil penalty against Air Methods Corp. of Englewood, Colo., for allegedly operating Eurocopter EC-130 helicopters on dozens of flights around Pensacola, Fla., when they were not in compliance with FAA regulations.

The FAA alleges Air Methods operated two helicopters on 70 passenger-carrying flights over water and beyond power-off gliding distance from shore, when they lacked required helicopter flotation devices and flotation gear for each occupant. The agency alleges the company operated another helicopter on 13 such flights when it lacked required flotation gear for each occupant. All 83 flights by the emergency medical transport company occurred around Pensacola.

Air Methods acquired the four bases of Baptist LifeFlight, owned by Baptist Health Care of Pensacola, in June 2014. (Post)

NASA awarded a contract to The MathWorks Inc., of Natick, Mass., to provide new software licenses, maintenance and product training for mathematical computing software to be used by NASA engineers and scientists. The MathWorks contract consists of a one-year base period and four one-year options. The period of performance will begin May 1 with a potential end date of April 30, 2020, and total value of $30 million. The contract will be administered by the Enterprise License Management Team at the NASA Shared Services Center, Stennis Space Center, Miss. … Applied Research Associates Inc., Albuquerque, N.M., was awarded an $11.7 million DoD contract for airfield operating surfaces and airfield damage repair technology development. Work will be performed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and is expected to be complete by April 14, 2020. The 772nd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, is the contracting activity. … Geocent LLC, Metairie, La., was awarded a $10.1 million multiple award DoD contract for software and systems engineering, development and support services to assist in the delivery and maintenance of business applications, systems, and enabling technologies. Work will be performed in San Diego, Calif. (90 percent); and Metairie (10 percent), and work is expected to be completed April 15, 2018. … Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $9.9 million modification to a previously awarded DoD contract for Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) production lots 28 and 29. This modification provides for the purchase of an additional 24 Captive Air Training Missile AIM-120D guidance section spares. Work will be performed at Tucson and is expected to be complete by March 31, 2017. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Week in review (4/5 to 4/11)

A lot of international attention has been focused on this region because of the Airbus A320 plant that will open this year in Mobile, Ala. But another group has folks from overseas has also been paying close attention for another reason. They'll be making investments in this region of a different sort - they'll be putting money into reprogramming labs.

We had a story this week in the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor/Gulf Coast Reporters League newsletter about the two new F-35 reprogramming labs that will be built at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. They'll join the reprogramming lab that has been at the base for about five years now.

The two new labs will be for five countries that are partners in the F-35 project. Groundbreaking for the Australia, Canada, United Kingdom Reprogramming Lab (ACURL) will be this year, then next year ground will be broken for the Norway Italy Reprogramming Lab (NIRL). How many folks they’ll have and what they'll cost hasn't been detailed because it involves foreign dollars.

These labs are crucial to the success of the F-35 program. The labs are used to create mission data, packages that hold terrain and enemy threat information, including radar, surface-to-air missiles and fighters, along with data on friendly forces, non-beligerants and commercial  aircraft. All of that goes into providing the pilot with battle space awareness.

Partner nations for some time now have complained that they need to customize their F-35s to suit their own needs. These labs will allow that. (Post)

In a related matter, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $150.6 million contract to provide an integrated reprogramming capability to build, test, modify, and field F-35 mission data files for Australia and the United Kingdom. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas and is expected to be completed in December 2018. (Post)

The newsletter also had a story during the week about SpaceX at Stennis Space Center. South Mississippi is playing a major role in development of SpaceX's next generation rocket engine that will make the company’s plans for trips to Mars -- and the eventual colonization -- possible.

It was a year ago that SpaceX cut the ribbon on its test stand at the NASA facility. Since then SpaceX has been testing components for its Raptor rocket engine, specifically injectors and combustion chambers, with additional components ready for testing in the near future. In a typical week, SpaceX conducts multiple tests, according to a company spokesman. (Post)

With more than 1,300 acres acquired around Whiting Field Naval Air Station since 2001, on Thursday Santa Rosa County approved adding about 330 acres of conservation easements adjacent to the base. Another 2,000 or so acres are also being sought pending negotiations with landowners. The land purchase is designed to protect the base from encroachment. The base has a $1.1 billion annual economic impact. (Post)

-- After a four-year absence, the Gulf Coast Salute Air Show is being held this weekend at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The last show was in 2011, and was dropped because of budget issues. The Air Force Thunderbirds and the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team, as well as the Army Golden Knights jump team, are performing. (Post)

-- Speaking of bases, the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala., was highlighted in one of our newsletter stories. The base is where Coast Guard aviators learn how to fly various aircraft, and it also sets the standards for the service's aviators. It's also gotten some international attention thanks to a full-motion simulator developed for the HC-144 Ocean Sentry. (Post)

Two other bases, Florida's Naval Air Station Pensacola and Naval Air Station Whiting Field, were also highlighted in a story about the folks who maintain their training aircraft. It's a big job making sure those aircraft are airworthy, and that responsibility falls to some 800 workers for several different companies. (Post)

Gulf Coast State College plans to offer a two-year degree in unmanned vehicle systems. The Gulf Coast Unmanned Vehicle Systems Program launches this summer with student enrollment planned for the 2015-2016 school year. The two-year degree would be credited toward a four-year degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which offers classes at Tyndall Air Force Base. (Post)

Silver Airways has launched new service between Florida's Pensacola International Airport and Jacksonville International Airport. The non-stop flights will operate Monday through Friday. With the addition of the Jacksonville service, Pensacola International Airport now offers non-stop service to 12 international hubs. (Post)

Also, Southwest Airlines, which in early March started offering Saturday service between Florida's Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and Dallas Love Field, is now offering daily flights to that destination. The more frequent schedule began Wednesday. The airport is in West Bay, northwest of Panama City. (Post)

Economic development
Northwest Florida will be represented at the upcoming MRO Americas 2015 event taking
place at the Miami Beach Convention Center April 14-16. The aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul conference attracts airlines, manufacturers and service providers who are involved in a range of MRO activities. Florida's Great Northwest is coordinating a regional marketing effort at the three-day event. (Post)

Crew MW LLC, Goldsboro, N.C., was awarded a $9.2 million contract for Simplified Acquisition of Base Engineering Requirements. Work will be performed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and is expected to be complete by April 6, 2016. Air Force Test Center, Eglin Air Force Base, is the contracting activity.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Week in review (3/29 to 4/4)

The April edition of the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League Aerospace Newsletter will be published Tuesday. You'll be able to find the 8-page, four-story PDF at the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor website beginning Tuesday, or you can sign up and have it sent directly to your inbox. Just drop me a line if you want on our growing list of subscribers. It's free, as is all our material thanks to our underwriters.

In the upcoming newsletter, I wrote about the Eglin Air Force Base lab that puts the fight in the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, and about two new multimillion-dollar labs that will be built at Eglin by U.S. partner nations. In the same issue is a story by Duwayne Escobedo about the aviation jobs in the Pensacola metro area that have been here for so long now, sometimes folks forget they are here. They are the folks who maintain the hundreds of Navy trainers that operate in the region.

One of our writers in Alabama, Matt Irvin, wrote about the U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, which is the go-to organization for Coast Guard aviation. It sets the standards for Coast Guard aviators, and is the place they receive training for in specific aircraft. One of the ATC simulator has gotten some international attention. Last but not least, one of our Mississippi writers, Lisa Monti, will tell you about high-flying SpaceX and how its work at Stennis Space Center, Miss., will help power a new rocket designed to go to Mars. Talk about a company that thinks big.

I always get a charge out of folks who tell me they had no idea all this aerospace and aviation activity has been taking place in the Gulf Coast I-10 region for years. But that's one of the purpose of our newsletter. We hope you enjoy it. You can see past issues by clicking here.

Now for the past week in review:

Economic development
The Okaloosa Industrial Air Park in Crestview has joined the list of sites certified through Gulf Power's Florida First Sites program. Florida First Sites 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, and six have been certified so far. The new site is 134.7 acres owned adjacent to Bob Sikes Airport. The previously certified sites include two each in Santa Rosa and Bay counties and one in Jackson County. (Post)

Page & Jones Inc. of Mobile, Ala., has been awarded the import clearance and export services contract with Airbus related to its A320 final assembly line under construction at Mobile Aeroplex. Page & Jones is an international logistics company with branch offices at 12 ports and airports in a six-state area. It offers U.S. Customs clearance, export forwarding and ship agency services between ports and airports worldwide.

Airbus is building an A320 final assembly line that will open this year. (Post)

-- ANA Holdings has firmed up an order for seven more A321 aircraft, following the previous announcement in January this year. That brings ANA’s total order for the A320 family to 37 aircraft. In addition, CIT Group Inc. has placed a firm order for five more A321ceo aircraft, in effect doubling its most recent commitment for five A321 ceo aircraft signed at the 2014 Farnbourough International Airshow and firmed up in November 2014. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $6.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract to provide interim contractor sustainment services in support of the F-35 low rate initial production lot aircraft for the Air Force. Work will be performed at Luke Air Force Base, Glendale, Ariz., and is expected to be completed in November 2015.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center. (Post)

Two people in a helicopter working a controlled burn in the DeSoto National Forest died in a crash early in the week near Saucier, Miss. The third person, a National Forest Service veteran of 20 years, was hospitalized but improving. The controlled burn today involved 800 acres right at the Harrison and Stone county lines. The victims were a National Forest Service employee and contract pilot. (Post)

About 155,000 people attended the air show last week at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The show featured the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team. About 96,000 people attended Saturday and 59,000 were on hand Sunday. (Post)

Airbus Defense & Space Inc., Herndon, Va., was awarded a $9.4 million contract for UH-72A helicopter support, hardware, and services for the Royal Thai Army. Work will be performed in Thailand with an estimated completion date of March 31, 2017. The helicopters are built in Columbus, Miss. … Ampex Data Systems Corp., Redwood City, Calif., was awarded a $10 million contract for sustainment of the current Airborne Data Recorder fleet. Contractor will provide spare parts, technical support, repair services, and upgrade support to the existing Airborne Data Recorder fleet. Work will be done at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and is expected to be complete by March 31, 2020. Air Force Test Center, Eglin, is the contracting activity. … Avarint LLC, Buffalo, N.Y., was awarded an $83.7 million contract for Virtual Integrated Electronic Warfare Simulations (VIEWS) II. Contractor will provide an integrated, multi-spectral, virtual battlespace environment suitable for the test and evaluation of advanced sensor, fused system performance. Continuous advancements in survivability technologies necessitate improvements to ground and open-air test capabilities, with particular focus on the areas of sensors and avionics architectures that fuse information from multiple sources including the F-22 and F-35. Both aircraft are based in Northwest Florida. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $10.8 million modification to previously awarded contract for the F-22 sustainment contract for the Reliability and Maintainability Maturation Program (RAMMP). Work will be performed at Fort Worth and is expected to be complete by Feb. 28, 2017. F-22 pilots are trained at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., which is also home to an operational F-22 squadron. … HX5 LLC of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $9.9 million contract for continuing research and development services. Funding and work location will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of March 29, 2017.