Saturday, March 2, 2019

Week in review (2/24 to 3/2)

This past December I wrote in our daily news feed about Airbus and Lockheed joining forces to compete for any new contracts to supply aerial tankers for the U.S. Air Force. As readers know, Airbus went up against Boeing more than a decade ago to supply the planes. Airbus won the first time, but after a protest by Boeing, a new competition was held and Boeing wound up with the contract to build 179 of the KC-46 refueling tankers, based on the 767 jetliner.

But there are a lot more tankers that will be needed beyond those. The Air Force wants to replace all its tankers, more than 400. I raised the prospect in our bimonthly newsletter published in December that, should that Airbus-Lockheed partnership end up winning a contract, it’s possible the tankers could be built in Mobile, Ala., where Airbus is currently building A320 passenger jets and in the near future will be assembling A220 jetliners.

I’m not the only one thinking that way. Part of my job tracking aerospace activities in this region involves doing a lot of reading. I came across this item by Jens Flottau, a business and aviation correspondent for the Munich-based newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung. It’s one of the largest daily newspapers in Germany.

In a story about Airbus’ efforts in North America, Flottau wrote about the Airbus-Lockheed deal involving the A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). He wrote that the two are examining a broad spectrum of opportunities, including the aerial tanker. In another round of tanker competition, Airbus would supply the plane and Lockheed would use its system integration skills and lobbying clout in Washington, D.C. He quoted Airbus CEO Tom Enders as saying Lockheed would have been the preferred partner 10 years ago. Said Enders: “I don’t understand why the world’s largest air force still does not fly the world’s most capable tanker.” Flottau ends his article with this paragraph:

“It will likely take years before more clarity can be reached on a potentially massive order. But once it is there, and the Airbus-Lockheed venture prevails in part or in full, it is likely to be the Mobile site at Brookley Field that again will benefit. Airbus has ensured that there is enough land available for it to build another hangar for work on the A330. Just in case.”

Yup, just in case. We’ll keep our eyes on this one. You can see the Flottau article in the German Times.

OK, in addition to doing a lot of reading, some of my work involves going out to see and talk to folks involved in aviation activities. It can be everything from a groundbreaking to a symposium and the like. But every now and then there’s something a bit more fun.

That was the case during the week when I was among a small group of local journalists who got a look at the new TH-57 Sea Ranger helicopter simulator at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, near Milton. The one we saw was a stationary Level 6 simulator, and NAS Whiting Field will get three of those. It’s also getting seven Level 7 simulators – the full motion type.

At one point we got a chance to get in the cockpit to see up close how it works.

The simulator has two seats, and I sat in the left seat. Marine Maj. Ron Chino, rotary wing training officer for Chief of Naval Air Training, was sitting in the right seat. Because there are a variety of scenarios that can be used with the simulator, I asked if we could be on an aircraft carrier.

No problem. He explained a few things to me about the controls and the displays, then after he lifted off the deck, we flew around the carrier and came back for a landing. Neat. So I asked the major if I could try to fly it myself. No problem, he said, provided some instructions and, well, my brain was immediately overloaded. But I forged ahead.

Yes, I managed lifting off of the deck, and tried circling around – the major had to help a bit keeping us airborne since I kept losing airspeed. Not a good thing. So after we went in a half circle around the carrier, the major asked me if I wanted to try to land on the deck without any help from him. Sure, I said. Then, knowing what was going to happen anyway, I asked if I could crash the simulator. I wanted to see that red screen, I told him. No problem, he said.

OK, fess up time. I tried to crash on the deck, but ended up in the Gulf of Mexico. But the great thing about the simulator is, I didn’t get wet, nobody got hurt and we didn’t lose an expensive helicopter.

I asked Chino if the students are as overwhelmed as I was the first time they get behind the controls. But he explained what I attempted to do – fly – is not the way they are taught. They accomplish one thing at a time, like keeping it straight while it hovers, while the instructor takes care of the rest. Then they move on to the next task and so on until they’ve mastered all the individual steps to flying a helicopter.

The major said it’s not long before they feel comfortable. He told me how long that takes but I can’t remember what he said and I wasn't taking notes while I was at the controls. Chalk that up to being too overwhelmed by it all, or perhaps it was spatial disorientation.

Other than my time in the simulator, the event involved dozens of Navy and civilian officials who filled us in on the new simulators, the first new ones at the base in nearly 40 years. They will be used by some 500 Navy, Marine and Coast Guard helicopter students who go through the training each year. The one I got in was the stationary, Level 6 trainer. NAS Whiting will get three of those.

It will also get seven full-motion Level 7 machines, which have larger vertical and horizontal wrap around screens, providing a larger field of view. The simulators can mimic any time of day and give students challenging weather and air traffic situations. Also included in the upgrade will be a central control station that will provide the capability to link all 10 simulators together in a single virtual environment.

The simulators were provided by contractors Flight Safety Systems International of Denver, Frasca International of Urbana, Ill., and Aechelon Technology of San Francisco. The old simulators have been use since the Cold War era and have been modified over time to make them more capable. But they reached their limit of adaptability and will be replaced over the next year by the new simulators. (Post)

We'll have more about this in the April issue of the newsletter.

Commercial aviation
Shareholders of Brazil’s Embraer have approved a deal to sell 80 percent of the company’s commercial plane division to Boeing Co. The deal will allow Boeing to compete with Airbus in the market for jets with up to 150 seats. The transaction must now be approved by antitrust regulators.

Under the terms of the deal finalized in December, Boeing will pay $4.2 billion to control Embraer’s most profitable division, supplying passenger jets to airlines. Boeing will acquire 80 percent of "all aspects" of Embraer's commercial aircraft division, including aircraft design, manufacturing, certification, services and sales work related to ERJs, E-Jets and E-Jet E2 family aircraft.

Once the transaction receives full regulatory approval, Boeing and Embraer will be joint owners of a yet-to-be-named commercial jet company. Shareholders also approved a joint venture between the two planemakers to market Embraer’s new KC-390 military cargo jet. Embraer will own a 51 percent stake and Boeing 49 percent.

Boeing and Embraer announced in December 2018 that they had approved the terms for the joint ventures and the Brazilian government gave its approval in January 2019. Embraer's board of directors ratified its support for the deal and definitive transaction documents were signed. Boeing and Embraer hope to close the deal by the end of 2019.

Boeing rival Airbus last year bought a controlling stake in Bombardier Inc’s CSeries jets, which also have less than 150 seats. Renamed the A220, the jet is built in Mirabel, Canada, but a second final assembly line is currently being built in Mobile, Ala.. (Post)

Speaking of air travel, tickets are now on sale to fly from Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi to two new destinations: Austin, Texas, and Ft. Myers, Fla. The announcement of new flights aboard Sun Country Airlines was made at the airport early in the week.

The nonstop flights are as low as $59 one-way and will run Fridays and Mondays from July through December to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Southwest Florida International Airport.

The airport has a $299 annual economic impact, said Clay Williams, executive irector of the airport, and ridership was up 11 percent last year and cargo up 16 percent. (Post)

NASA tested an RS-25 engine late in the week at its highest power level for an extended period of time. The 500-second test was conducted on the A-1 Test Stand. For the fourth time, NASA powered the engine to 113 percent of its original thrust design, this time for more than 430 seconds, about four times longer than any previous hot fire at that thrust level.

The hot fire concluded a series of nine tests that began last August, using RS-25 developmental engine No. 0525. As with previous tests in the series, the Feb. 28 hot fire featured an RS-25 flight engine controller that will be used on a Space Launch System mission. The controller is the "brain" and a key component of engine modifications made to help power SLS, being built as the world’s most-powerful rocket to carry humans deeper into space than ever.

The RS-25, originally used in the Space Shuttle, is being modified for SLS. Four RS-25s will provide 2 million pounds of thrust during SLS's launch and ascent. (Post)

-- In other space news, there was a successful launch at 2:49 a.m. EST Saturday at Cape Canaveral, Fla., of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Crew Dragon spacecraft. The capsule is going to the International Space Station with a dummy on board. The first stage of Falcon 9 touched down on SpaceX’s drone ship.

The test is a significant step towards allowing SpaceX vehicles to be used to launch astronauts in space. U.S. astronauts have not launched from the United States in a U.S. space vehicle since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. (Story)

SpaceX is developing its next generation rocket engine at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

The Department of Homeland Security will embark on a 10-year cloud computing initiative to modernize its technology infrastructure and improve its cybersecurity posture, according to a Feb. 19 announcement.

The program calls for modernizing Data Center 1 (DC 1) at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., and retiring by June 2020 DC 2 in Virginia, migrating a majority of its IT systems and data to the cloud.

The program could be worth a combined $1 billion to $2 billion for multiple cloud vendors over the next 10 years, according to a Bloomberg Government analysis.

The scope of DHS's program resembles the Defense Department’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud program, but with a different approach. Where JEDI will be a centralized cloud that provides the bulk of the Pentagon’s infrastructure-as-a-service needs, DHS’s will rely on multiple vendors and hybrid systems capable of running in both on-premise and cloud environments.

Responses to the Request for Information are due March 20, 2019.

CSC Government Solutions (spun off from CSC into CSRA, which was acquired by General Dynamics IT) has operated the DC 1 at the National Center for Critical Information Processing and Storage at Stennis Space Center since July 2008. The site itself is government-owned and is 63,000 square feet of raised floor space. The complex consists of three large attached buildings.

While DHS is now trying to move to the cloud, DC 1 and DC 2 are the result of a previous consolidation that saw the IT infrastructure of the agencies under its purview limited to just two sites. (Post)

Contracts – F-35
There were two contracts awarded during the week in connection with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center. Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded $108.7 million for a delivery order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement. This order provides for program management, nonrecurring engineering, recurring engineering, site support and touch labor in support of modification and retrofit activities for delivered Air Systems for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft for the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, non-Department of Defense (DoD) Participant and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. … Lockheed Martin Corp., Fort Worth, Texas, also was awarded $30.8 million for a modification to a previously awarded contract to provide for initial lay-in of repair material for ten F-35 Lightning II systems at various depots in support of the Air Force, Marine Corps; Navy; non-U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) participants, and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

Contracts - other
Tyonek Global Services LLC, Anchorage, Alaska, was awarded a $7.2 million contract for Cyber Operations Formal Training Support (CyOFTS) II. This contract provides for essential capabilities to support the Cyber Operations field training unit in course planning, administrative support, technical writing, course development, project management, instructor training, student mission training systems administration, network systems administration, training range engineering maintenance, computer help desk support, and hardware/infrastructure maintenance. Work will be performed at Hurlburt Field, Fla.; and Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, and is expected to be complete by February 2020. The 38th Contracting Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., is the contracting activity. … Unisys Corp., Reston, Va., was awarded a $76.3 million Other Transaction Agreement to execute the Enterprise IT as a service end user services risk reduction effort experiment. Work will be performed at Buckley Air Force Base (AFB), Colo., Maxwell AFB, Ala.; Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; Offutt AFB, Neb.; Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Cannon AFB, N.M.; Hurlburt Field, Fla.; and Pope Field, N.C., with possible scaling of up to 20 bases during the experiment. Work is expected to be complete by February 2022. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Hanscom AFB, Mass., is the contracting activity. … L3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded $21.4 million for a modification to a previously awarded contract. This modification exercises an option for organizational, intermediate, and depot level maintenance, logistics, and engineering support for Navy T-45 aircraft, aircraft systems, and related support equipment. Work will be performed at the Naval Air Station (NAS) Kingsville, Texas (55.5 percent); NAS Meridian, Miss. (41.3 percent); and NAS Pensacola, Fla. (3.2 percent), and is expected to be completed in September 2019. The Naval Air Warfare Training Systems Division, Orlando, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Micro Systems Inc., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $23 million contract for production, repairs services and associated ancillary equipment for the systems for Naval Target Control Block II and III in support of Navy aerial targets. Work will be performed in Fort Walton Beach and is expected to be completed in February 2024. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md, is the contracting activity.

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