Saturday, December 17, 2016

Week in review (12/11 to 12/17)

I usually don't lead off my column with something that's non-aerospace, but in this case it's interesting enough and has a Gulf Coast tie that's important to note.

An underwater drone operated by the Naval Oceanographic Office at Stennis Space Center, Miss., was seized Dec. 15 by China in the South China Sea. The Pentagon called upon China to immediately return the unmanned underwater vehicle that was collecting military oceanographic data such as salinity and water temperature. China has said it will return the vehicle, but is blaming the U.S. for "hyping" the issue.

The unclassified ocean glider, commercially available and sells for about $150,000, was being retrieved by the survey ship USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) when the drone was seized by China's PRC DALANG II-Class ship (ASR-510) about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines.

The Chinese ship launched a small boat and retrieved the UUV conducting a routine operation. Bowditch made contact with the PRC Navy ship via bridge-to-bridge radio to request the return of the UUV. The radio contact was acknowledged by the PRC Navy ship, but the request was ignored. Only later did China say it would return the drone.

The gliders are piloted by civilian workers at the oceanographic office at Stennis Space Center. The office has more than 130 such UUVs. The pilots use encrypted satellite communications to link up to the drones, which travel just a few miles per hour and are tracked by oceanographic vessels like Bowditch. You can read the story we posted on our shipbuilding/maritime news feed here. 

Some years back when I was writing for a Mississippi client I wrote at length about the underwater drones operated by the Naval Oceanographic Office. I remember at the time thinking how fascinating it was the pilots sitting at an office at NASA’s Stennis Space Center controlled all of these underwater drones.

In aerospace-related news during the week:

Continental Motors said it's joining other members of the Mobile Aeroplex and the Mobile Airport Authority Foundation to contribute to a STEM initiative that will sponsor 36 students to attend the National Flight Academy's six-day deployment program in June 2017.

The program at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., begins on a landlocked, virtual aircraft carrier, AMBITION. Students live aboard the carrier surrounded by advanced technologies and virtual reality missions that encourage learning. On board they participate in activities that demonstrate the practical uses of STEM skills. (Post)

The 300th A320 to come off the assembly line at the Airbus Tianjin Delivery Center was delivered to China Development Bank Financial Leasing Co. Ltd. Thursday and turned over to Sichuan Airlines.

Inaugurated in 2008, the Tianjin assembly line has reached its phase I production target of four aircraft per month. The assembly line is a joint venture between Airbus, Tianjin Airport Economic Area Zone and Tianjin Port Free Trade Administrative Committee, and the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). The partners have agreed to extend the joint venture until 2025 for phase II.

The Chinese assembly line was the third A320 final assembly line in the world and the first outside Europe. It delivered its first aircraft in June 2009. The fourth A320 family assembly line was established in Mobile, Ala., and has delivered 15 aircraft so far. Airbus anticipates it will deliver four aircraft per month in Mobile by the end of 2017. (Post)

The Gulf Coast Reporters League Aerospace Newsletter was published earlier in the week. You can read a piece on how president-elect Donald Trump’s stated views bode well for military aerospace and defense in the Gulf Coast region, but there is more uncertainty when it comes to commercial aviation, private space companies and NASA. (Post)

There's also a story about the fifth aerospace summit held last month in Gulfport, Miss., where the message was really quote upbeat. One participant things the longevity of the alliance provides a lesson in other cooperative marketing ventures for the region. (Post)

Finally, there's a story about the new $46 million VT MAE maintenance, repair and overhaul operation being built in Pensacola, Fla., that could wind up being for more important for the growth of the aerospace sector than some might think. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $181.2 million modification to a previously awarded contract for recurring logistics services of F-35 aircraft in support of the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, non-Department of Defense (DoD) participants and foreign military sales (FMS) customers. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. … Primus Solutions, LLC, Beltsville, Md., was awarded a $12.6 million contract modification for refuel and defuel services. Work will be performed at Fort Rucker, Ala., with an estimated completion date of Dec. 16, 2017. Army Contracting Command, Fort Rucker, is the contracting activity.

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