Saturday, February 24, 2018

Week in review (2/18 to 2/24)

Passenger area of CSeries.
GCAC photo

Airbus and Bombardier early in the week invited the media to take a look at a CSeries jetliner like the ones that are likely to be built at the Mobile Aeroplex under an agreement between the two plane makers.

The transaction, where Airbus gets a stake in the Bombardier CSeries jetliners, is not yet finalized, but is expected by the second half of this year. So what will all this mean for Mobile? As was reported back in November, the Bombardier investment will be close to $300 million and will create 400 to 500 jobs.

But at the event itself officials said the number of jobs at the Aeroplex will increase to as many as 600. That’s because there’s a good chance Airbus will hike its A320 series jetliner output to six a month from the current four.

The CSeries would be built in a separate hangar to the north and parallel to the hangar where Airbus is building A320 series jetliners. The plans is to eventually build four CSeries jetliners per month on the separate final assembly line.

Like the Airbus operation, major sections will be shipped to Mobile from other locations. The engines are built by Pratt & Whitney, and the podding work may be done at the UTC facility across the bay in Foley, where all the A320 podding work is done.

While a lot of details are still being worked out, Bombardier will use the Airbus delivery center, which will be expanded to accommodate the additional deliveries.

The twin-engine, single-aisle CSeries passenger jet is smaller than the A320. It has three seats on one side of the aisle and two on the other. (Post)

Building the CSeries in Mobile as well as Quebec will allow Bombardier to meet demand, and will mean jobs for years to come. There will be a demand for 6,000 of the CSeries jetliners over the next 20 years, according to Alain Bellemare, president and CEO of Bombardier, who was in Mobile for the event. He also pointed out that more than 50 percent of the plane's content is U.S.-produced.

Officials also said they expect more suppliers might now commit to setting up an operation in Mobile or the surrounding region with the arrival of Bombardier.

Meanwhile, over at Stennis Space Center, Miss., later in the week, Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA powered up the RS-25 main engine for the agency's Space Launch System (SLS) to its highest thrust levels yet. It was a 260-second test on the A-1 Test Stand. The RS-25 engine throttled up to 113 percent of its original design thrust level.

The first four flights of SLS will use engines that max out at 109 percent of rated thrust. The engines operated at 104.5 percent rated thrust when they helped power the Space Shuttle into space. New RS-25 engines will baseline their thrust at 111 percent.

The latest RS-25 hot fire test also was the fourth involving an additively manufactured Pogo Accumulator Assembly, the largest 3-D printed RS-25 component tested to date. Newly manufactured RS-25 engines, to be used starting with the fifth SLS mission, will incorporate the additively manufactured Pogo Accumulator Assembly and other 3-D printed parts currently in development.

There are 16 flight engines that will power the first four SLS flights in inventory at Aerojet Rocketdyne's Stennis facility. (Post)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Week in review (2/11 to 2/17)

I had the chance early this week to go to Stennis Space Center, Miss., to participate in a briefing and tour for social media and traditional media folks. I’m actually both, as those of us from the traditional media tend to be today.

I've been to Stennis Space Center (SSC) many times in the past, including visiting the towering stands where rocket engines are tested. But you always see something new, and besides, it's a great refresher for a space buff. I wrote about the test stands in the just-released Gulf Coast Reporters League Aerospace Newsletter. It's on pages 7 and 8.

But the daily post I wrote after the visit was an update on the plans to create a "near-site" research and technology park at SSC. I asked about it during a question-and-answer session with Randy Galloway, deputy director of the NASA rocket engine test facility.

He recapped for everyone else just what I was talking about when I asked about the interest in Enterprise Park. He pointed out that in December NASA opened a search for a non-federal partner to lead in development of the 1,100-acre technology corridor in the first phase of a multi-phase project.

Galloway said it was discussed with interested parties during a Feb. 7 Industry Day event. He said there was a "good bit of interest" in the proposed project in the northwest corner of the "fee area," the name for the area at SSC with all the buildings and test stands. He said at least 16 entities and 58 individuals expressed interest. The park would be allied to the mission at SSC, whether it's the mission of NASA or any of the other more than 40 tenants.

Enterprise Park would be for companies that want to work with NASA or other SSC tenants but who don't want to go through the security measures required to enter SSC, and by the same token don't want to be six or seven miles away. The 1,100 acres, identified as the most development-ready, is on the northern edge of the 13,800-acre secured area and would include property both inside and outside the security perimeter.

It was an important enough development that the deputy director of the Mississippi Development Authority attended the Industry Day to learn more. Galloway said some very good companies have expressed interest. The park would be leased to the developer, who would provide all the financing.

So why is this important? Galloway told me later that the obvious answer is economic development, benefiting not only Mississippi but the entire region.

"There are a lot of new companies involved in space," he pointed out about the tremendous growth of commercial space activities. At SSC, which has a huge 125,000-acre buffer zone around the fee area, they can make a lot of noise and not bother anybody. As somebody who once lived in Huntsville, I asked if he sees any parallels between Enterprise Park and Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, the nation’s second largest.

"I would hope that in 10 years we see just a fraction of what Cummings Research Park is today," he said, pointing out that Huntsville is a much bigger entity with a much larger budget authority, including the Army Materiel Command, the primary provider of materiel to the Army. Its mission includes research and development of weapons systems as well as maintenance and parts distribution. "When you have that much budget authority, you get a lot of interest. I don’t know that we'll ever be to that point, but I believe we can have something that's dynamic and appealing and a good source of long-term jobs for this community.”

I couldn't agree more. This is significant for our region.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines said during the week that it will proceed with plans to buy some Canadian-made CSeries jets from Bombardier this year after a U.S. trade ruling stopped the United States from imposing steep duties on the aircraft. It will take delivers this year of some of the 75 CSeries jets it ordered in 2016.

Those first jetliners will be made in Quebec. But not all of them will be produced in Canada. Production is set to begin for U.S. customers at an Airbus plant in Mobile, Ala., after the Airbus closes a deal this year to acquire a majority stake in the CSeries program.

"Delta still intends to take as many deliveries as possible from the new Airbus/Bombardier facility in Mobile, Ala., as soon as that facility is up and running," the carrier said.

During the week the International Trade Commission said it rejected the hefty U.S. duties on the CSeries jets earlier this month in part because Boeing had lost no sales or revenue during the Delta deal. (Post)

The February issue of the Gulf Coast Reporters League/Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor Newsletter is now available. The four-page cover story is about Alabama's considerable aerospace footprint, from Huntsville to Mobile and places in between.

Inside there's a story about a lecture in Pensacola, Fla., that focused on concerns that intelligent systems may one day be a threat to humanity. And as I mentioned earlier in this column, there's also an article about an historic test stand at SSC that next year will test the core stage of NASA's Space Launch System, which will eventually return astronauts to deep space. (Post)

Micro Systems Inc., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded an $81 million contract to acquire and/or repair essential part-numbered components to support the operation and maintenance of all versions of the Army Ground Aerial Target Control System, target interface control units, and associated ancillary equipment. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Ala., is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded $14 million modification to a previously issued delivery order placed against a basic ordering agreement. This modification provides for the procurement of initial air vehicle spares to include endurance spares packages to coincide with F-35 air vehicle deliveries in support of the government of Israel. 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. … ASES LLC, doing business as Field Aerospace, Oklahoma City, Okla., was awarded an $18.5 million contract for the T-1A Avionics Modification program. This contract provides for the replacement of the avionics suite in the T-1A fleet of 178 aircraft, 16 operational flight trainers, and 14 part task trainers. Work will be performed in Oklahoma City; Randolph Air Force Base, Texas; Columbus Air Force Base, Miss.; Vance Air Force Base, Okla.; Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas; and Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.. Work is expected to be complete by Aug. 14, 2025. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Week in review (2/4 to 2/10)

The February issue of the bimonthly Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor Newsletter will be published Wednesday. The cover story is the third installment of the series about the aerospace activities of the four states that are members of the Aerospace Alliance.

The upcoming issue puts a spotlight on Alabama, which has a large, diverse and growing aerospace sector. In fact, aerospace is the second fastest-growing sector in the state in terms of project activity. As you would expect, we'll tell you about Huntsville-Decatur, long a powerhouse in space, and Mobile, which seems destined to grow its aircraft manufacturing operations.

But you'll also learn more about the places in between, from Fort Rucker’s Army aviation center in Southeast Alabama to Tuskegee, where they'll build T-100 jet trainers if the Air Force picks Leonardo for the contract.

There's also an article about artificial intelligence and the fear that intelligent robots might be our greatest danger. That was the subject of a lecture in Pensacola at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, which pointed out the parallels between the current fear over AI and past concerns about humans flying.

We'll also tell you about a second lecture a little more than a week later at IHMC about future technology and some of the products that we can expect – the prototypes already exist. I particularly liked the windows that double as lights, and bendable computing devices.

We also have a rundown of some of the key aviation events that occurred in the Gulf Coast region since the last newsletter in December. If you're a subscriber, the eight-page PDF will be delivered to your inbox. Not a subscriber? You will be able to grab the PDF at our website.

Now for your week in review:

OK, even if you're not a space buff, you have to admit that the launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy from Cape Canaveral, Fla., was pretty awesome. And the images that were beamed back showing a Tesla Roadster in space – with Earth in the background and a dummy in the driver's seat – was like nothing you've ever seen before – at least not something that was real.

I'll admit, I was skeptical when the Obama administration started shifting money to commercial companies so they could handle routine flights to the International Space Station while NASA focused on extending our reach to deep space. But I've slowly but surely become a believer. The vision has gone well beyond routine as private companies push into space tourism and establishing colonies on distant planets.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy is the most powerful commercial rocket in the world. What is truly remarkable is that once again, SpaceX got its boosters back. Two of the three boosters made vertical landings back at Kennedy Space Center, while the third one scheduled to land on a drone ship off the coast of Florida hit the ocean about 100 yards from the ship. While the Tesla was visually stunning, it's the return of the boosters that's the real achievement here. SpaceX has done it in the past, but this time two of them came down nearly simultaneously. That capability promises to make space travel quite a bit less expensive.

The 23-story rocket was built with three of the company's Falcon 9 rockets, a total of 27 Merlin engines, created a combined 5 million pounds of thrust. Falcon Heavy is more powerful and can lift more weight than the biggest rockets offered by either United Launch Alliance or Arianespace.

A recent report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecast the size of the space industry over the next three decades will reach at least $2.7 trillion. All of this is good for our region. SpaceX is using Stennis Space Center, Miss., to develop its next generation Raptor engines, and other companies are also testing their rocket engines at SSC. (Post)

Airbus and its suppliers continue to grab our attention.

UTC Aerospace Systems recently delivered the first of two fully integrated propulsion systems for the Airbus 320neo to the Airbus final assembly line in Mobile, Ala. The newly expanded UTC facility in Foley, Ala., integrated the full nacelle system, designed and built by UTC Aerospace Systems, with the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-JM Geared Turbofan engine (GTF).

In 2011, Airbus selected UTC Aerospace Systems to design, manufacture and support the full nacelle system for the A320neo GTF engines for the life of the program. In support of the Airbus A320neo program, UTC Aerospace System elected to expand the Foley campus to meet customer demand. The 80,000 square foot expansion began operations in late 2017. (Post)

In another Airbus-related story, officials from Dublin-based MAAS Aviation and the Atlanta-based consul general of Ireland were in Mobile late in the week. As you know, MAAS Aviation in Mobile paints all the jetliners produced by Airbus.

The consul, Shane Stephens, was with a delegation of European representatives to visit the Gulf Coast to celebrate European investments in this part of the world. MAAS, in addition to the shop that paints the Airbus planes, later built another paint facility for after-market customers. Just a year after breaking ground, it’s repainted some 40 planes. MAAS officials say they’re excited about the growth potential of the Mobile area. (Post)

The Air Force has grounded some training flights at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., because of hypoxia-related issues experienced by pilots at other bases flying T-6 Texan II A aircraft.

The Pensacola News Journal reports that Randy Martin, a spokesman for the San Antonio-based 12th Flying Squadron, said the Air Force has 22 of the planes at NAS Pensacola. The planes are used to train combat systems officers as part of its 479th Fighter Group at the Navy base.

Earlier this month the Air Force grounded its entire fleet of T-6 Texan II A planes after pilots experienced hypoxia due to lack of oxygen in flight. Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., flies a different version of the T-6 Texan II. (Post)

-- The Florida Department if Environmental Protection announced Friday that 2,607 gallons of Jet-A fuel spilled at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The spill occurred in Building 92 on Jan. 5 after a switch box froze, activating fuel pumps and overfilling an underground storage tank. Absorbents were put in place to soak up the fuel and the Emergency Response Contractor cleaned the area. (Post)

-- Speaking of the environment, Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., was the winner in the medium-sized shore command category of the 2017 Navy Community Service Environmental Stewardship Flagship awards.

The awards program highlights commands and ships that exhibit strong commitment to environmental stewardship via volunteer service projects. Naval Air Technical Training Center Pensacola, Fla., was an honorable mention in the large shore command category. (Post)

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirkland Air Force Base, N.M., announced its annual award winners Jan. 25. Winners will compete at the next level for Air Force Materiel Command’s annual awards.

AFNWC 2017 annual award winners included Field Grade Officer of the Year, Maj. Kenton Feldman and Category IV Civilian of the Year, Wesley Treadway, both of the Air Delivered Capabilities Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

The center is responsible for synchronizing all aspects of nuclear materiel management on behalf of the AF’s materiel command in direct support of the AF Global Strike Command. Headquartered at Kirtland, the center has some 1,100 personnel assigned to 17 locations worldwide, including Eglin. (Post)

-- Col. Michael E. Martin of the 24th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Fla., who was selected earlier this week for the grade of brigadier general, is being assigned as director, Integrated Resilience Office, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Pentagon, Washington, D.C. The announcement was made by the office of the Air Force chief of staff. (Post)

-- Air Force Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Becklund has been nominated for appointment to the rank of major general. Becklund is currently serving as the special assistant to the commander, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Fla. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $119.7 million modification to a previously issued delivery order placed against a basic ordering agreement. This modification provides for the procurement of initial air vehicle deployment spares packages in support of Air Force F-35 air vehicle delivery schedules. work is expected to be completed in July 2022. 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. … The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $21 million contract for the procurement of GBU-57 massive ordnance penetrators. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Week in review (1/28 to 2/3)

Leave it to folks who don't live in this region to think they know what's best for us. I'm talking about the legislation to move Northwest Florida into the Eastern Time Zone, and shift us to permanent Daylight Saving Time.

The people who are backing this apparently don't fully understand the impact. Under the "Sunshine Protection Act," Pensacola will be an hour ahead of nearby Mobile during Daylight Savings Time, and two hours ahead during Daylight Standard Time.

The region covered by the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor is all on Central Time. When it's 11 a.m. in Panama City, Fla., it's the same time in New Orleans. When I cross the Alabama-Florida state line heading west on work-related travel, I'm always in the same time zone. If I head east along Interstate 10, I don't change time zones until crossing the Apalachicola River, and that's outside the aerospace corridor area of interest.

All of us who live here are quite familiar with being in a different time zone than Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami. And there's a lot of logic in keeping all the northern Gulf Coast in the same time zone. Fortunately, Northwest Florida senators opposed the plan. Like so many other ideas to make things "better," this needs to be beaten down.

Now here's your week in review:

OK, space buffs, here are a couple of items you’ll like.

Construction has officially begun on the spaceship that will achieve America's goal of returning astronauts to the Moon and beyond. Lockheed Martin technicians and engineers at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in East New Orleans have welded together the first two components of the Orion crew module capsule for Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2). The EM-2 mission will be its first flight with astronauts on board.

This flight will be launched atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. EM-1, which will be used for an unscrewed mission, was assembled at Michoud and final assembly is being done in Florida.

The EM-2 capsule is 30 percent lighter and has 80 percent fewer parts. The main structure of the crew module, or pressure vessel, is comprised of seven large machined aluminum alloy pieces that are welded together to produce a strong, light-weight, air-tight capsule.

The first weld joined the forward bulkhead with the tunnel section to create the top of the spacecraft. The pressure vessel capsule will continue to be built out over the spring and summer in Michoud incorporating the three cone panels, the large barrel and the aft bulkhead.

Once completed in September, it will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center where the Lockheed Martin team will perform assembly and test of the EM-2 spacecraft. (Post)

Meanwhile, over at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, NASA followed up the first RS-25 test of 2018 with a second hot fire of the Space Launch System (SLS) engine late in the week. The full-duration, 365-second certification test of another RS-25 engine flight controller on the A-1 Test Stand at comes about two weeks after a Jan. 16 hot fire.

The test marks completion of green run testing for all four of the new RS-25 engine flight controllers needed for the second flight of NASA’s SLS rocket. NASA is building SLS to send humans to such deep-space missions. Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) will test the new rocket and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into space beyond the moon. EM-2 will be the first flight to carry humans aboard the Orion spacecraft, returning astronauts to deep space for the first time in more than 40 years. RS-25 controllers for the EM-1 flight already are installed on the engines that will be part of the SLS core stage. (Post)

Remote sensing
WMR-532, a joint venture of Woolpert and Optimal GEO, recently hosted a training session on the Coastal Zone Mapping and Imaging Lidar program for Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) personnel. This session, which took place over five days at Stennis International Airport, was supported by the Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetric Technical Center of Expertise (JALBTCX), Teledyne Optech and the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission.

WMR-532 is providing operations and maintenance of airborne coastal mapping and charting sensors in support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and NAVOCEANO worldwide, as well as technical support to JALBTCX. The Coastal Zone Mapping and Imaging Lidar program is designed to develop and evaluate a sensor for mapping and charting the coastal zone to improve performance and data products. (Post)

The newest Airbus aircraft, the A321LR, completed its maiden flight in Europe during the week. The flight was two hours and 36 minutes. Thanks to new CFM LEAP-1A engines and a third fuel tank option, it can fly more than 4,300 miles non-stop, which opens up new transatlantic routes using the popular single-aisle jetliner.

The A321LR (Long Range), which can accommodate up to 240 passengers, now undergoes a nearly 100-hour flight test program and is expected to enter service in the fourth quarter of 2018. The Airbus plant in Mobile, Ala., will be producing the LR variant starting in 2019, according to Kristi Tucker, spokeswoman for the Mobile plant. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded $148 million modification to a previously awarded contract. This modification provides for the procurement of Israel-unique weapons certification, modification kits, and electronic warfare analysis in support of the F-35 Lightning II Israel system design and development to provide 3F+ fleet capability for the government of Israel under the Foreign Military Sales program. 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. … BAE Systems, Information and Electronic Systems Integration Inc., Nashua, N.H., was awarded a $13.1 million contract for the phase 2 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Seeker Cost Transformation program. The contract seeks to demonstrate that a high performance seeker can be used in precision guided munitions and accurately guided to a target by a low cost, modular open-architecture, low size, weight, power and cost seeker. Air Force Research Laboratory, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Missiles Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $105.2 million modification to previously awarded contract for Griffin missiles. The contracting activity is the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.