Saturday, August 20, 2016

Week in review (8/14 to 8/20)

If you've been following aerospace activities in this region long enough, you certainly recall the battle between Boeing and what was then called EADS to win the contract to build aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

I remember writing about it in 2005, when EADS was first looking for a site in the United States where it could build tankers if it won the contract. That chosen site ended up being Mobile, Ala. The contract was at first awarded to EADS, but after a Boeing protest the competition began anew. Boeing won the second time around in 2011, primarily because it said it could build them  for considerably less than EADS.

But Mobile may have ended up the winner in the long-run. EADS, which changed its name to Airbus Group, decided to build a plant in Mobile anyway, to assemble the popular A320 series of jetliners. The first one was delivered to customer JetBlue in April, and the brand new planes have been rolling out of the plant ever since.

And the tanker? The road has not been easy for Boeing, which experienced delays and cost overruns. Boeing ended up being too optimistic with its cost estimate – something many thought at the time was likely the case – and will have to cover about $1 billion in unexpected expenses.

But on Aug 12 the Pentagon deemed the tanker is now ready for production. This past week the Air Force awarded Boeing a $2.8 billion contract for production of 19 refueling tankers in two batches. Under the contract, Boeing will deliver two low-rate initial production lots of seven and 12 KC-46A Pegasus tankers – modified 767 aircraft. The Air Force is seeking 179 of the tankers to replace about a third of its aging tanker fleet. The first plane will be delivered in about a year.

Finally, our military will get the tanker that is so sorely needed.

Carrier-variant F-35s during practice landings at Choctaw Naval Outlying Field near Pensacola, Fla., ended up being so precise and consistent with landings that their tailhooks hit the same spot on the runway every time. Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, head of Naval Air Forces, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., that the landings on the same spot tore up the runway. The F-35C uses the Delta Flight Path, a built-in technology that controls glide slope and minimizes the number of variables pilots have to monitor as they complete arrested carrier landings. (Post)

-- Members of the 33rd Fighter Wing are participating in the two-week Northern Light exercise at Volk Field in Wisconsin. In Northern Light, Air National Guard, Air Force and Navy aircraft simulate deployment and missions in a contested environment. Col. Lance Pilch, 33rd FW commander, said the wing is continuing to be integral in building battle-ready F-35 pilots and maintainers capable of employing this weapons system against elevated threats. (Post)

-- United Technologies Corp., Pratt & Whitney Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., was awarded a $17.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract for additional long lead items in support of the F-35 low-rate initial production Lot XI procurement. This modification provides for delivery of long-lead items for the LRIP Lot XI effort for the Navy/Marine Corps, Air Force, international partners, and foreign military sales customers. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. (Post)

NASA engineers successfully conducted a development test of the RS-25 rocket engine Thursday. The RS-25 will help power the core stage of the agency’s new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the journey to Mars and beyond. The test of engine No. 0528 was for 420 seconds. The SLS rocket will be powered by four RS-25 engines, firing along with a pair of solid rocket boosters. NASA has conducted tests of the new booster at Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah, while all RS-25 developmental 
and flight engine tests will be conducted on the A-1 Test Stand at SSC. (Post)

The first U.S.-built A321 for Spirit Airlines has left the MAAS Aviation paint shop at the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility and will soon enter the flight test phase. The aircraft is the 10th A321 to be produced in Mobile. Seven have been delivered. (Post)

Webb Electric Co. of Florida, Pensacola, Fla., was awarded an $11,499,889 firm-fixed-price contract for repair circuit six, selected portions. Bids were solicited via the Internet with seven received. Work will be performed at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, with an estimated completion date of Oct. 31, 2018. Army Corps of Engineers, Tulsa, Okla., is the contracting activity.

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