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.

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