Saturday, May 30, 2015

Week in review (5/25 to 5/30)

We’ll have to mark up this past week as one of the most historically significant for the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor. Airbus sent its first shipment of aircraft sections to its brand new assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., one of the RS-25 engines that will power NASA's Space Launch System was tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss., commercial space company SpaceX got the thumbs up to compete for military launches, and the QF-4 target drone has wrapped up its service to the military.

And this isn’t on the same historic playing field, but the Gulf Coast Reporters' League has finished its fifth annual aerospace book. It will be available Monday.

Here's your week in review:

The ship carrying major aircraft sections for the Airbus jetliner that will be built in Mobile, Ala., is on its way. The BBC Fuji left Hamburg Friday for its 20-day voyage across the Atlantic. The major parts include fuselage sections, wings and tail sections built at plants in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain, all made from parts from an international supply chain.

They'll be assembled starting this year and will come out at the other end of the plant as an A321 jetliner for customer JetBlue. That plane will be delivered in the spring of 2016. (Post)

The Airbus plant at the Mobile Aeroplex will eventually produce four to five aircraft a month, but that figures is likely going to go upward. The sales chief of Airbus, John Leahy, said during the week that Airbus may be producing as many as 60 A320 family passenger jets per month, up from the current 42.

There are currently three plants that produce A320 family aircraft: Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; and Tianjin, China. Mobile will be the fourth assembly line, and will have to pull its weight with any increase in production.

Both Airbus and Boeing have huge backlogs for their popular single-aisle jetliners, and both are talking about producing more planes. The question has always been, can the supply chains keep up.

Airbus Chief Operating Officer Tom Williams said Airbus could ramp up to 60 planes per month as soon as 2018. A formal decision by the company is expected by the year's end. (Post)

Meanwhile, Airbus rival Boeing is making additional inroads in this Southeast region, specifically in Mississippi. The company chose Mississippi State University, thats up in Starkville, as the host for a research center that will lead development on composites the company will eventually use to build aircraft.

The Stitched Resin Infused Composite Research Center will be housed within MSU’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory. Boeing would provide $3 million on equipment and fund two full-time engineers.

But South Mississippi isn't being left out. The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg will serve as a technology incubator of next-generation composite material systems. Southern Miss has entered into a new master agreement with Boeing to accelerate research and development of next generation materials, including polymers and polymer matrix composites.

The new agreement builds on an existing relationship between Southern Miss and Boeing, which currently has a research contract to utilize the assets of the Accelerator, the university's business incubator. (Post)

An RS-25 rocket engine had a successful 450-second test during the week at NASA's Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi. The hotfire test was at the A-1 test stand, where Apollo rocket stages and Space Shuttle main engines, also RS-25s, were tested in the past.

One of the objectives being evaluated in this test is the new engine controller, or "brain" of the engine. The controller monitors the engine conditions and communicates the performance needs. RS-25 engines tested on the stand will power the core stage of NASA's new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which is being developed to carry humans deeper into space than ever before.

A cluster of four RS-25s will power the SLS. NASA engineers conducted an initial RS-25 engine test on the A-1 stand Jan. 9. RS-25 testing now is set to continue through the summer. (Post)

In another key event regarding space, the Air Force certified private company SpaceX to launch military satellites, opening the door to a lucrative market previously held solely by a Lockheed and Boeing joint venture. SpaceX can compete for military space contracts valued at $9.5 billion over the next five years.

SpaceX, established in 2002, is a leader in commercial space launches. Its  Dragon space capsule and Falcon launch vehicle have notched successful cargo flights to the International Space Station, and is moving toward approval to eventually carry astronauts. SpaceX is using facilities at Stennis Space Center, Miss., for R&D on its next generation rocket engine. (Post)

Another piece of history is going away. Tyndall Air Force Base's QF-4 aerial target drone operations came to an end in mid-May following Combat Archer, an air-to-air targeting mission for the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard.

The unmanned QF-4 provided full-scale targets for the pilots, but it's being replaced by the QF-16 Viper, a fourth-generation fighter. Six Vipers are scheduled for delivery to Tyndall by the close of 2015. (Post)

Space Florida and the University of West Florida signed a three-year memorandum of understanding to further develop cybersecurity technologies. Space Florida, the state's aerospace development authority, and UWF's Center for Research and Economic Opportunity will work together to determine opportunities to further develop and cybersecurity technologies to the commercial sector.

The region is heavily involved in cybersecurity. Pensacola's Corry Station is home to the Navy's Center for Information Dominance and a Department of Homeland Security Computer Emergency Readiness Team. Air Force cybersecurity personnel receive initial training at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., and advanced training at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Odyssey Systems Consulting Group LTD, Wakefield, Mass., was awarded a $212.4 million contract for advisory and assistance services for the Armament Munitions Directorate in support of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. Work will be done at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and is expected to be complete by May 31, 2020. … Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $12 million contract to procure Griffin missiles. Work will be done in Tucson and is expected to be complete by Jan. 31, 2016. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Sunshine Aero Industries Inc., Florala, Ala., was awarded a maximum $12.4 million contract for jet-A with additives fuel. Using services are Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and federal civilian agencies. … Three companies from Pensacola, Fla., were among 10 awarded a $45 million contract for architect and engineering design serves with the Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District. The companies are Hernandez Calhoun Design International P.A., BTA-TLC JV LLC and Bullock Tice Associates Inc. The contract is to support the Mobile District and South Atlantic Division military construction design program. Funding and work location will be determined with each order with a completion date of May 26, 2020. The Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile, Ala., is the contracting activity. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $56.2 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for logistics and depot level services for 119 TH-57 aircraft in support of the Naval Air Training Command's Undergraduate Helicopter Pilot Training Program. Work will be performed at the Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Fla., and is expected to be completed in May 2016.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Week in review (5/17 to 5/14)

Not a day passes without some new item about unmanned aerial systems. Here's one from this week that caught my eye.

Pilots of F-35s will one day control a small fleet of drones from the cockpit while in flight. That's according to a new upcoming Air Force report on autonomous systems. Word about the report came from Air Force Chief Scientist Mica Endsley, as reported by

The Air Force is poised to unveil a new strategy for unmanned aircraft systems next month, and it will discuss, among other things, greater levels of automation and a wider scope of missions. The new Air Force report will highlight plans to improve sensors, develop new algorithms and introduce new unmanned platforms.

The Air Force currently uses Predators, Reapers and Global Hawks, all remotely piloted from the ground. Endsley said the future will include drones that are smarter and will handle things like mission planning. (Story)

If you want to really get a sense of how far robotics has come, pay attention next month to the robotic competition that will take place in California. Top robotic  teams in the nation will go against each other to see which has created a robot that can handle chores like driving a vehicle, opening a door and turning a wrench.

One of the teams that will be competing is from the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola. In two previous competitions leading up to this one for a $2 million prize the Pensacola team came in first in the first competition and second the next time around with its 6-foot tall Atlas robot.

Now here's a review of the stories during the week of interest to the Gulf Coast Interstate 10 region:

Before pilots of F-35s can start controlling drones, the planes first have to achieve initial operating capability. Six Marine Corps F-35B fighters are currently aboard the USS Wasp off the East Coast for two weeks of operational tests.

Those tests are needed before the Marines can declare its first squadron of 10 F-35s ready for combat in July. The planes are assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 501 of Beaufort, S.C. That unit transferred to Beaufort last year from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where initial F-35 maintenance and pilot training is conducted. (Post)

NASA started work earlier this month in preparation for testing the core stage of its new, powerful Space Launch System (SLS). One million pounds of structural steel is being added to the B-2 stand to handle the large SLS stage.

A major step in the modification involves extension of the test stand's Main Propulsion Test Article (MPTA) framework, which supports the rocket stage for testing. It was repositioned last summer, now it's being heightened. An addition 100 feet will be added to the current 61-foot height.

When testing begins, all four RS-25 will be tested simultaneously. NASA's SLS is being developed to return humans to deep-space missions. Boeing is building the core stage at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (Post)

Speaking of Stennis Space Center, NASA is looking for companies interested in using underutilized federal facilities at its rocket engine test site in South Mississippi, including the 300-foot tall, $350 million A-3 test stand.

NASA issued a request for information May 13. In addition to four test stands, NASA is looking for parties interested in utilizing portions of the Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant, which occupies a large tract in the north of Stennis Space Center. SSC will make all facilities available during the week of June 22-26 for site visits. (Post)

Economic development
Three new engineering companies set up shop recently at Alabama's Mobile Aeroplex, joining Safran Engineering and Airbus Engineering to form a new engineering cluster. Sonovision, Inter-Informatics and AKKA Technologies currently share some 3,500 square feet of space.

They have a total of five people between them, but are expected to grow over time and might move to a larger location at the complex. All of this is occurring because of the Airbus assembly line that is nearing its opening. The assembly line will build A320 family aircraft beginning this summer. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Space System Co., Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded a $735.5 million contract for sustainment of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF), Milstar, and Defense Satellite Communications System III. Work will be performed in California and Colorado, and is expected to be complete by Nov. 30, 2015. Core propulsion subsystem work on the AEHF was done at Stennis Space Center, Miss. … Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems Inc., Bethesda, Md., was awarded a $12.5 million contract modification for an extension of the Next Generation Technical Services (NGTS) III requirement. The scope of this effort contains the management and technical support necessary to advance high performance computing services, capabilities, infrastructure, and technology. Work will be done at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.; Stennis Space Center, Miss.; Vicksburg, Miss.; and Lorton, Va., with an estimated completion date of July 19, 2015.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Week in review (5/10 to 5/16)

It's that time of year again. In just a little over two weeks you'll be able to grab a copy of the fifth annual edition of the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor book, either a free electronic PDF or you can order a printed book at cost, thanks to our underwriters.

As with previous issues, this book by  the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League has some updated chapters from last year's book along with new ones.

This year we have a chapter about the Airbus assembly line that opens this summer in Mobile, Ala., and a chapter about the activities of the top aerospace/defense companies in this region. And because the military is such a big part of this region, we have a chapter detailing all the military aircraft that call this region home. We also have a new section this year, a library that will help you find past chapters and articles we’ve written about this aerospace region.

Drop me a line if you want to get the free book PDF delivered to your inbox once it's available. Or remember to visit next month and download it from there.

Now for your week in review:

Engineers at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans began welding together the first pieces of the structure of the Orion crew module pathfinder. This pathfinder is a full-scale version of the current spacecraft design. It's used to demonstrate the manufacturing and assembly procedures that will be used to produce the actual flight hardware.

Using a pathfinder allows engineers to make sure those procedures work correctly and to improve the process before producing the flight article. This pathfinder will help NASA prepare for Orion's next mission to deep space atop the agency's Space Launch System rocket. (Post)

Speaking of Michoud, NASA, Michoud and the State of Louisiana honored their long partnership in support of the nation's space goals during Thursday's 2015 NASA Louisiana Aerospace Day at the capitol. NASA's economic, educational and cultural contributions to the state were recognized by proclamations in the House and Senate, while displays in the rotunda and on the lawn gave visitors a look at work underway on the Space Launch System, Orion and other NASA projects. (Post)

Back in 2013 four Navy SEALS were wounded when a CV-22 was hit with rounds of AK-47 and .50 caliber fire. It happened when three CV-22s tried to land in South Sudan to evacuate U.S. citizens from a civil war.

The military wanted a solution, so a Florida company came up with a composite armor kit that can be installed in the back cabin to protect passengers. The Protective Group’s kit has 66 armor plates sized to fit along the Osprey’s interior bulkheads and deck. Sixteen of the Advanced Ballistic Stopping System kits have been delivered to the Air Force. (Post)

-- The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Hurricane Hunters from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., flew its WC-130J Hercules to check out the first storm of the 2015 hurricane season, Tropical Storm Ana, earlier this month. Ana made landfall May 11 near Myrtle Beach, S.C., and was quickly downgraded to a tropical depression. The Hurricane Hunters flew six sorties into the storm. Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. (Post)

Jacobs Technology Inc., of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was among a host of companies awarded a $634 million contract for research and development services to include services for the purpose of creating and developing new processes or products. Funding and work location will be determined with each order with an estimated completion date of May 13, 2023. … Army Fleet Support LLC, Fort Rucker, Ala., and Jacobs Technology Inc., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., were among a host of companies were awarded a $1.1 billion order-dependent multiple award task order contract for equipment related services. Funding and work location will be determined with each order with an estimated completion date of May 13, 2023. … Jacobs Technology Inc., of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was among a host of companies awarded a $1.8 billion order dependent contract for knowledge based service-type requirements. Funding and work location will be determined with each order with an estimated completion date of May 13, 2023. ... Leebcor Services LLC, Williamsburg, Va., was awarded a $7.1 million task order under a previously awarded multiple award construction contract for renovation and repairs to buildings 3701 and 3706 at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla. Work is expected to be completed by May 2017. … M7 Aerospace LLC, San Antonio, Texas, was awarded a $13.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for logistics support for 12 Navy/Marine Corps UC-35 aircraft and seven Navy C-26 aircraft at nine global locations. Ten percent of the work will be at Fleet Marine Reserve Detachment, Belle Chase, La.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Week in review (5/3 to 5/9)

The first female F-35 pilot; another contract for engines for the F-35; a UAV center for excellence; the certification of another aerospace park; and the official opening of an aviation education center were among the stories of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Here's the week in review:

The first female F-35 pilot has started training. It's Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group deputy commander, who completed her first training flight in the single-seat fighter following 14 virtual training missions in the full mission simulator at the F-35 Academic Training Center. (Post)

-- Pratt and Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $7.6 million modification to a previously awarded F135 advanced acquisition contract for long-lead items for low-rate initial production (LRIP) Lot X.

The long-lead items include group hardware supporting the LRIP Lot X delivery of conventional take off and landing (CTOL) propulsion systems for the Air Force, group hardware supporting the LRIP Lot X delivery of CTOL, carrier variant propulsion systems for the Navy/Marine Corps, and group hardware supporting the LRIP Lot X delivery of short take-off and vertical landing propulsion systems for the Marine Corps.

This contract combines purchases for the Navy (97.4 percent), and the Air Force (2.6 percent). The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center. (Post)

The Federal Aviation Administration chose Mississippi State University as the FAA's Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The center will focus on research, education and training in areas critical to integration of unmanned systems into the nation’s airspace.

The MSU team brings together 15 of the nation's leading UAS and aviation universities. It will be able to begin research by September 2015 and be fully operational and engaged in a research agenda by January 2016. The Gulf Coast region is heavily involved in unmanned systems. (Post)

Economic development
DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport has become the first certified industrial park in Walton County through Gulf Power's Florida First Sites program. The program was created in 2013 to help communities prepare sites to attract new industries and new jobs to the region. It's the seventh site to be certified in Northwest Florida. (Post)

NASA selected research and technology proposals from 254 small businesses and 39 research institutions in the United States for grants to develop new technologies that will further NASA's journey to Mars. A dozen selected proposals involve technology being administered by the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., each worth up to $125,000 in the Phase 1 period. (Post)

More than 2,100 personnel from across the Gulf Cost and New Mexico on earlier this month completed the two-week-long Air Force Special Operations Command training exercise Emerald Warrior 2015. Among the training sites were Hurlburt Field, Eglin Air Force Base and Apalachicola in Florida, Camp Shelby and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the Pelham Range in Alabama, and Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico. (Post)

-- The Navy's Blue Angels announced a new commanding officer for the demonstration
squadron's 2016-17 season. It's Navy Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi, a California native and experience F/A-18 pilot. He'll take over command after early November’s final show of the 2014-15 season at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Bernacchi will succeed Capt. Tom Frosch. (Post)

Educators, politicians, students and residents gathered in Fairhope, Ala., last weekend to dedicate a new aviation training academy at H.L. "Sonny" Callahan Airport. The academy first opened to students in January and teaches aviation, industrial maintenance and welding to adult and high school students for college credit. (Post)

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Poway, Calif., was awarded a $38 million modification to a previously awarded contract. It provides 64 MQ-9 Electrical Safety Improvement Program retrofit kits on 64 Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Combat Command, and Air National Guard Block 1 aircraft. Air Force Special Operations Command is headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Fla. … Airbus Defense and Space Inc., Herndon, Va., was awarded a $24 million modification to a multi-year contract for mission equipment packages to be cut into the Lakota Helicopter production line as part of the Army Aviation Restructure Initiative for training aircraft. Work will be performed in Columbus, Miss. … Applied Research Associates Inc., Albuquerque, N.M., was awarded an $18.8 million contract to provide research and development for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center in the development and evaluation of enhanced and emerging technologies under robotics and automation. Work will be performed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and is expected to be complete by April 30, 2020. The 325th Contracting Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, is the contracting activity.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Week in review (4/26 to 5/2)

Furloughs at a Cantonment aerospace company; a contract approval by members of a union; changes in F-35 flights over town near Eglin; a report critical of the F-35 engine; and two F-35 contracts totaling some $300 million were among the stories of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region during the week.

Here's the week in review:

Marianna Airmotive has furloughed part of its workforce because of a slowdown in work for the government. The company, which overhauls and fabricates parts for Air Force C-5 aircraft, has not closed and expects to bring workers back when some expected contracts come through. In the most recent figures available, the company had 125 workers. (Post)

Meanwhile, union members of local 2777 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers ratified a three-year agreement with L-3 Vertex Aerospace at Naval Air Station Whiting Field. The agreement includes a three percent general wage increase for each year of the contract, among other things. (Post)

Work on a runway will cause the temporary shift of F-35 operations to another runway, which may lead to a slight increase in noise over Valparaiso for a few months. Most F-35 flight operations at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., use Runway 12/30, but that runway was closed for upgrades Friday. The F-35 traffic will shift to Runway 01/19, the base’s main north/south runway.

The Air Force also said that Eglin will become a temporary host to 15 F-35Cs that are part of the Navy’s backup aircraft inventory. The 15 planes will relocate to Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., when construction there is completed in three years. (Post)

-- A Government Accountability Office report slammed the reliability of Pratt and Whitney's F-35 engine. Federal auditors warned lawmakers that the engine "has a long way to go to meet program goals." Company executives said they were surprised by the strong language, and that the report, while accurate, fails to tell the rest of the story. The company says it’s updated its latest production engines to fix prior reliability issues, and those engines are meeting current government reliability marks. (Post)

Even with the criticism, Pratt and Whitney Military Engines of East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $157 million advance acquisition contract during the week to procure long lead-time components, parts, materials and effort in support of 90 low-rate initial production Lot X F-135 propulsions systems for the F-35.

It includes 44 F-135-PW-100 for the Air Force; 9 F-135-PW-600 for the Marine Corps; and 2 F-135-PW-100 for the Navy. In addition, this contract provides for the procurement of 30 F-135-PW-100 and 5 F135-PW-600 systems for international partners and Foreign Military Sales customers. (Post)

-- In addition to the F135 engine contract, the Defense Department during the week awarded another contract related to the F-35, this one to Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Ft. Worth, Texas. It was awarded a $142.7 million modification to a previously awarded contract to continue development of the Joint Strike Fighter Autonomics Logistics Information System Standard Operating Unit Version 2 capability development effort.

ALIS monitors every component of the aircraft and alerts operators of any breakdowns. At least that's what it's supposed to do. But complaints heard by members of Congress range from the user-unfriendliness and slow response to queries to the high frequency of false alarms.

This modification includes the incorporation of sub-squadron reporting, dynamic routing, and decentralized maintenance capabilities. Work will be done in Orlando, Fla., and Fort Worth, Texas (20 percent), and is expected to be completed in July 2017. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. (Post)

Airbus awarded Turkish Aerospace Industries a new contract to supply its A320 aircraft with fuselage panels. Turkish Aerospace Industries has been the sole supplier for the Section 18 fuselage panels for the A320 since 2014. The new contract gives the Turkish company responsibility to manufacture another section of the Airbus A320 aircraft called Section 19. An A320 final assembly line will open in Mobile, Ala., this year. (Post)

Army Aviation's 1st Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment at Fort Rucker, Ala., has a new commanding officer. Lt. Col. James Ashburn assumed command last month during a change of command ceremony. Ashburn returns to Fort Rucker from an assignment with the joint plans office, and executive officer, for the U.S. Central Command headquarters in south Florida. He attended the Officer Basic Course and Initial Entry Rotary Wing Training at Fort Rucker after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy. (Post)

Systima Technologies Inc., Kirkland, Wash., was awarded a $12.5 million contract for stand-off precision guided munitions (SOPGM) precision strike capability. Contractor will provide support of the munition system carriage and release with products for employing SOPGMs and precision strike packages; installation, test, and operation of SOPGMs and precision strike capability on government specified platforms, assets (including aircraft) to support test of and training with SOPGMs and precision strike capability. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $14.7 million modification to a previously awarded contract for F-22 Sustainment contract for Reliability and Maintainability Maturation Program (RAMMP) annual support. F-22 pilots are trained at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. … Northrop Grumman Undersea Systems, Annapolis, Md., was awarded a $31.7 million contract for depot level repair, maintenance, and modifications of the AN/AQS-24 Mine Detecting System to support the Navy for the currently deployed Airborne Mine Countermeasures legacy systems. Naval Surface Warfare Center - Panama City Division, Panama City, Fla., is the contracting activity.