Saturday, May 27, 2017

Week in review (5/21 to 5/27)

The announcement late in the week that Northrop Grumman would expand its unmanned systems center in Moss Point, Miss., had intriguing information that the company would add a mix of additional work, including sub-assembly work for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The announcement was made by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant during the annual investors meeting of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation in Pascagoula.

Northrop Grumman opened its systems center in Moss Point at the Trent Lott International Airport originally to work on Fire Scout unmanned helicopters. But even before it opened the plant was expanded to 101,000 square feet and work on Global Hawk fuselages was added.

The company and Jackson County economic development leaders have said from the start that Northrop expected to bring more work to the plant, which had room to expand if needed. The expansion will add 60 jobs and represents a company investment of $3.7 million. The state will contribute $7.5 million in BP restoration money to harden the runway at the airport. (Post)

The White House's proposed budget for 2018 budget released during the week calls for a new round of military base closures in 2021. It's likely to get some resistance from a Congress that so far has rejected the Pentagon's calls to close bases because of a roughly 20 percent excess capacity.

The last Base Realignment and Closure round was in 2005. The Gulf Coast has multiple military bases, including many with aviation missions. In past BRACS the region has done pretty well. It's lost some missions, but has also gained some from other bases. (Post)

Aerojet Rocketdyne was picked to build the main propulsion system for a reusable hypersonic aircraft, the XS-1, being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and Boeing.

The company said it will produce two AR-22 engines using parts from previous versions of the space shuttle main engine that have remained in the company and NASA inventories.

Aerojet Rocketdyne will conduct assembly and ground testing work on the two engines at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. Boeing and DARPA entered into an agreement to build, design and test a technology demonstrator earlier in the week as part of the agency’s Experimental Spaceplane program. (Post)

Speaking of engines, NASA engineers successfully conducted the second in a series of RS-25 flight controller tests during the week. The test was rescheduled after a facility issue, subsequently resolved, forced rescheduling of a May 16 hot fire.

The 500-second test – more than eight full minutes – was on the A-1 Test Stand and is designed to test the controller, the key modification to the former space shuttle engines. The Space Launch System will be powered by four RS-25 engines. The first flight controller was tested in March for installation on one of the four EM-1 engines. (Post)

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, Calif., was awarded $64.5 million for a modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for operator, maintenance, logistic support and sustainment engineering services in support of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator (BAMS-D) program. Work will be performed in Maryland, California and various forward operating locations and is expected to be completed in June 2018. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded $19.8 million for a modification to delivery order issued previously against a basic ordering agreement. This modification procures work on the aircraft memory system and panoramic cockpit display in order to alleviate diminishing manufacturing sources constraints projected under F-35 production Lot 15 for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and international partners. Work will be performed in Fort Worth and is expected to be completed in March 2019. 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. … Raytheon Co., Keyport, Wash., was awarded a $14.7 million contract to provide maintenance and support for the AN/AQS-20 sonar mine detecting set to maintain and improve system sustainability. The AN/AQS-20 is a towed, mine hunting and identification system for Program Executive Office, Littoral Combat Ships. Five percent of the work will be done in Panama City, Fla. Other work locations are in Rhode Island and Washington state, and is expected to be completed by May 2018. The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Panama City, is the contracting activity.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Week in review (5/7 to 5/13)

At first glance it looked like the good folks at Airbus had sent an old press release. The headline said Airbus was building its first A320 in Mobile, odd considering the first one was last year.

But that momentary thought left quickly when I realized it was actually building its first A320 member of the A320 series, or "family" as the company calls it. So far all 27 jetliners that have been built and delivered at the plant have been the A321, the largest member of the A320 series.

The major component assemblies for the A320 recently arrived from Europe. This aircraft will be delivered to Spirit this summer. The plant, which began production in July 2015, is equipped to assemble A319, A320 and A321 passenger jets. (Post)

Later this year the U.S. Manufacturing Facility will begin building its first Airbus with the new engine option, a more fuel-efficient aircraft.

In another Airbus story during the week, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has placed an incremental order for 30 A321ceo aircraft. This order follows three previous Delta orders for the Current Engine Option version of the largest Airbus A320 series.

The airline took delivery of its first A321 in March of last year. Delta now has ordered a total of 112 A321s, each powered by CFM56 engines from CFM International.

Many of Delta’s A321s are being delivered from the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile. By the end of 2017, the Airbus facility in Mobile is expected to produce four aircraft per month, most going to Airbus’ U.S. customers. (Post)

Then there's this interesting Airbus item. The company announced during the week that it is launching a new drone aerial imagery service in Atlanta. The subsidiary, called Airbus Aerial, plans to sell its imagery services to a variety of industries, including insurance, oil and gas, utilities and others.

It plans to partner with others to provide the needed service. It will use drones and satellites to capture imagery. Airbus announced the new service at a drone conference during the week in Dallas. (Press release)

Bases There was a changing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., during the week when the Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center was deactivated and the 492nd Special Operations Wing activated.

Like the organization it replaces, the 492nd SOW's mission is to train, educate and equipping special operators and perform test and evaluations of special operations programs and equipment.

The wing's forerunner is the 492nd Bombardment Group, which flew special operations missions in World War II in Europe. (Post)

-- Airmen, Marines, sailors and soldiers came together May 6 to honor and remember their fallen explosive ordnance disposal brethren during the annual memorial ceremony at the Kauffman EOD Training Complex at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Six new names were added to the engraved lists that now contains 326 people. The 2017 event marked the ceremony's 48th year. Each year, a wreath is placed in front of each branch of service's list of names before they are read aloud. (Post)

-- Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich wants to honor Keesler Air Force Base with the return of an Air Force plane along U.S. 90. Gilich proposes moving a decommissioned 1956 F-104 jet on display at Keesler to the center median of U.S. 90 near White Avenue, down the street from the base. Keesler supports the idea and has offered logistical support for the move. (Post)

A piece of test hardware for NASA's Space Launch System was damaged May 3 at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The hardware damaged was the bottom dome of a test Liquid Oxygen Tank. It was not welded to the rest of the tank at the time. NASA and prime contractor Boeing have both formed independent assessment teams. The impact on the SLS development calendar is unclear. There were no injuries. (Post)

Economic development
State and local leaders gathered at the new GKN Aerospace facility near Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport this week to welcome the new arrival. In February the aircraft supply company announced it would build a manufacturing facility in Bay County. It’s the company’s first site in Florida. GKN Aerospace will create at least 170 new full-time equivalent jobs y the end of 2020. (Post)

The House Armed Services Committee wants more information from the Navy as part of its ongoing probe into problems with T-45 training aircraft used at Naval Air Station Pensacola and bases in Mississippi and Texas. The committee wants to schedule of all tests and evaluations of equipment associated with the trainer, as well as the Navy’s actions in response to test results. Pilots had complained about oxygen issues with the jet, which is still flying with limitations on maneuvers. (Post)

The number of passengers passing through Pensacola International Airport have steadily grown over the past five years. Departures during this year’s first three months are 4.7 percent higher than in the same span in 2013. March performed particularly well, with 7.4 percent more departures this year over 2016. (Post)

Raytheon Missile Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $7.2 million modification to a previously awarded contract to provide life of type buys, obsolescence components under the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile Lots 28-30 production. Work will be performed at Tucson and is expected to be complete by March 31, 2019. This contract involves foreign military sales to Japan, Norway, Romania, Turkey, and Australia. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Week in review (4/30 to 5/6)

Last week I wrote that the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League is currently compiling the sixth edition of the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor book, the first since we shifted from an annual to a biennial. One chapter focuses on the considerable space-related activities we have in the Gulf Coast region, thanks to Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Many of you may think of NASA when it comes to space, and that's certainly true and continues to be true. But a growing part of the field of space that's incredibly exciting is the commercial activities in the field, and our region is in the thick of that. We devote a chapter of our June 2017 book to take an in-depth look at this important field.

The reason I mention that chapter is that Aerojet Rocketdyne at Stennis Space Center recently conducted hot-fire tests to validate the design of the preburner for the AR1 rocket engine, which is being developed to replace the Russian-built RD-180 engine currently used to launch most U.S. national security payloads.

The preburner, a component that drives the engine’s turbomachinery, was built using state of-the-art techniques, including 3-D printing. With the design now confirmed, Aerojet Rocketdyne has cleared one of the major technological hurdles to fulfill the congressional mandate to end U.S. dependence on Russian engine technology for military launches. (Post)

Rocketdyne has been a long-time fixture at Stennis Space Center. Once a division of North American Aviation, Rocketdyne later became part of Rockwell International, then Boeing, then United Technologies, where it became Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne. It became Aerojet Rocketdyne when UTC sold it to GenCorp.

With the growth of aerospace and aviation activities in the Gulf Coast region, there was some news out of Alabama that bodes well for the future of the sector in our region.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced plans during the week to create the Alabama Aviation Education Center near the Airbus manufacturing facility in Mobile. It is designed to bolster Alabama's workforce development efforts and inspire young people to pursue careers in the state's growing aerospace cluster.

The $6.5 million center at the Mobile Aeroplex, developed in partnership with Airbus, will provide aviation-themed activities and STEM-focused educational programs to visitors. It will have classrooms, workshops and innovation rooms, along with exhibits, aircraft models, videos and more.

Airbus will play a central role in developing the educational programs offered at the center. The facility will be managed and operated by Airbus Americas Inc., which will collaborate with educators, universities and other aviation companies operating in Alabama to develop flight-themed educational programs for the center.

The facility will be open to the public, with a minimal entrance fee to help offset its operating costs. (Post)

That gives the region yet another science/aviation experience designed to pique the interest of young people. Over in Pensacola there's the National Flight Academy, and in Mississippi there's Infinity Science Center, but there's a lot more. For parents who want to spur the imagination of the upcoming generation, take a look at an article we published in the July 2016 edition of the Gulf Coast Reporters’ League Business Quarterly, pages 24-37. You can download the magazine PDF here.

Speaking of Airbus, the company has appointed Laurent Blattner as President of Airbus DS Military Aircraft, Inc. Blattner will lead a 70 plus employee operation in Mobile that continues to increase its service and support capabilities in maintenance, repair and overhaul of various Airbus military aircraft and components.

Blattner’s most recent position was with Airbus Services as CEO of Cassidian Aviation Training Services SAS and Aviation Defense Service. Prior to joining Airbus, Blattner served 28 years in the French air force as a colonel where he was in charge of maintenance units dedicated to fighter aircraft.

For two of these years he served as an exchange officer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Blattner succeeds Juan Uriarte, who has been CEO for ADSMAI in Mobile since 2014. Uriarte is returning to Airbus in Europe. (Post)

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. of San Diego, Calif., was awarded two contracts this week related to the Fire Scout and Global Hawk unmanned aircraft built in part in Moss Point, Miss. The company was awarded $32.9 million for a modification to a previously awarded contract for integration of the original equipment manufacturer radar into the MQ-8C Fire Scout. Work will be performed in California and the United Kingdom and is expected to be completed in May 2020. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. The company was also awarded a $39.9 million contract for Battle Field Airborne Communications Node (BACN) for EQ-4B Global Hawk. Northrop will provide BACN payload modification, integration, and installation onto the EQ-4B. Work will be performed at San Diego and Palmdale, both in California, and is expected to be complete by May 2, 2018. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., is the contracting activity.