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American Airlines said Friday that it has agreed to a sale-leaseback arrangement with an independent aircraft leasing company to finance up to 35 Boeing 737-800 Next Generation aircraft.
The arrangement calls for 29 firm deliveries, including 26 previously ordered aircraft and three newly ordered aircraft. The arrangement also covers six more 737-800 Next Generation aircraft subject to purchase rights for possible delivery in 2013-2014.
Under the sale-leaseback arrangement, AerCap will purchase the aircraft from American and lease them back to the Fort Worth-based carrier.
“We are pleased to significantly expand our relationship with AerCap and diversify our financing strategies,” said Bella Goren, chief financial officer for AMR Corp., American’s parent company. “This arrangement is a great reflection of the flexibility we have to efficiently raise capital in support of AMR’s strategic fleet renewal efforts.”
American Airlines also updated its fleet replacement schedule on Friday. The airline plans for delivery of 15 Boeing 737-800s in 2011, 28 in 2012 and 14 in 2013.
American has reportedly been negotiating with Chicago-based Boeing and France-based Airbus to add up to 250 new, fuel-efficient aircrafts to its fleet, according to media reports in recent weeks.
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Atlantis astronauts sailed past the midpoint of NASA’s STS-135 final shuttle program mission on July 14, steeped in a demanding cargo exchange with the International Space Station, but working well ahead of schedule.
The 13-day flight to the orbiting science laboratory is scheduled to conclude with a dawn landing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 21. Touchdown at the Shuttle Landing Facility is scheduled for 5:58 a.m. EDT.
“We’ve had a wonderful mission so far,” Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson reported as the four-member shuttle crew prepared to take several hours off to share an “All American” meal of barbecue with their six U.S., Russian and Japanese space station hosts.
“We brought up about 10,000 pounds of food and supplies, and that will hopefully sustain the station for about a year to come,” Ferguson said. “We have a couple of more days docked, then it’s the long road back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.”
The transfers, overseen by Atlantis mission specialist Sandra Magnus, are intended to sustain six-person operations aboard the orbiting science laboratory through 2012, as NASA transitions to post-shuttle era commercial resupply services provided by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. The strategy, however, relies on regular launches of cargo-laden Russian Progress space freighters as well.
As they took their first break since the July 8 launch of Atlantis, the shuttle astronauts reported that 75% of the 9,400 lb. of food, spare parts and research equipment they delivered in the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module had been off-loaded. More than half of the 2,300 lb. of equipment from the shuttle’s mid-deck had made its way across the station threshold as well.
Over the remaining days of the flight, 5,600 lb. of trash and unneeded station gear will be stowed aboard Raffaello, which was temporarily transferred from the shuttle’s cargo bay to the station on July 11. Another 1,500 lb. of station discards will return to Earth in the mid-deck.
“There are bags and boxes everywhere, just like your house on moving day,” says Chris Edelen, NASA’s lead space station flight director. “But it’s a controlled chaos. The [Mission Control] team is working very closely with the crew. They have choreographed the movement of equipment in and out of the logistics module so there is a place for everything.”
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Two planes collided on a taxiway at Boston’s Logan Airport on Thursday night, causing one to be injured.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that a Delta 767 collided with an Atlantic Southeast jet on a taxiway around 7:30pm local time.
“While taxiing out for departure, the wing from Flight 266 from Boston to Amsterdam made contact with the vertical stabilizer of ASA Flight 4904, also on departure from Boston to Raleigh-Durham,” a statement from Delta Air Lines said.
“Both aircraft have been removed from service for inspections and passengers are currently being reacommodated on other aircraft.”
Boston Logan International Airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said one person was complaining of neck pain after the crash, but that no one else had been injured, myFOXboston.com reported.
A passenger aboard the larger Amsterdam-bound jet, 30-year-old Jacob Crane, of Atlanta, told the Boston Herald that he had watched his plane’s wing run into the other plane’s tail.
“I saw it coming. We were taxiing pretty quick. I saw the wing and I said we’re not going to clear that. It was like ‘oh, they hit,’ and that was that.
“It was generally pretty calm but there were some people … a Russian guy was grabbing for the emergency exit,” Crane said. “But it was like no big deal. Nobody was hurt. There was a girl next to me that started crying and bawling but everybody else was pretty calm.”
The collision caused the tail of the commuter jet to bend over completely, according to myFOXboston.com.
The crash came three months after a Comair plane was involved in a dramatic smash with an Air France A380 on the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport — an incident which made headlines globally after being caught on film.
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Rocked by the U.S. Army’s 2008 cancellation of its over-budget ARH-70 armed reconnaissance helicopter program to replace the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, Bell Helicopter hatched a plan to recapture its customer by capitalizing on perhaps its most successful product, the OH-58D itself.
That approach has moved forward with delivery of the cabin for the first of 19 wartime replacement rotorcraft and hot-and-high performance testing of the company-funded OH-58D Block 2 demonstrator. The two milestones are key to Bell’s strategy to re-establish OH-58D production and demonstrate that an upgraded Kiowa Warrior can meet the Army’s Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) requirement.
Bell delivered the first OH-58A cabin upgraded to the OH-58D standard to the Army on June 30 under the A2D program, 30 days ahead of schedule. The refurbished cabin was shipped from the company’s Xworx rapid prototyping center in Fort Worth to Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas, for installation of avionics and dynamic components.
The remaining 18 cabins under Bell’s initial $76.2 million A2D contract will be completed at its plant in Amarillo, Texas, where it will establish an assembly line. The Army needs 40 helicopters to replace wartime losses, and Bell and the Army continue to discuss moving to a “new metal” cabin for some of the remaining aircraft. Stripping, converting and assembling the airframes is a two-year process.
The manufacture of new cabins is a key step in Bell’s strategy, as it would establish a hot production line for the AAS program. “We have gone to our suppliers, asked for quotes and provided the information to the Army,” says Jim Schultz, manager of Bell’s Army programs. Although the Army’s Kiowa Warriors were all converted from existing airframes, Bell built 38 new OH-58Ds for Taiwan, so data is available, he says.
The Army does not have a schedule for deciding whether to move to new metal cabins, and there are more OH-58A cabins available for upgrade, says Maj. Jeffery McCoy, Army assistant product manager for Kiowa Warrior. Any decision likely will be linked to the service’s AAS acquisition strategy. An analysis of alternatives has been completed, but “the Army has not made a final decision on the direction of AAS,” McCoy says.
With competitors lining up for the AAS—including the AgustaWestland AW119, Boeing AH-6S, EADS AAS-72 and Sikorsky high-speed, coaxial-rotor S-67 Raider—Bell is betting that the Army will lack the funds for a new helicopter. Its Block 2 proposal would build on the ongoing OH-58F Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program (Casup) by introducing an uprated engine and drive train to give the modernized Kiowa Warrior the 6,000-ft., 95F high/hot performance the Army seeks from the AAS.
In June, the first Block 2 demonstrator, powered by a 1,000-shp-class Honeywell HTS900 engine, conducted flight tests in Colorado that showed the upgraded aircraft can hover out of ground effect at 6K/95 at a gross weight higher than the OH-58D’s 5,500-lb. maximum, says Bell. The HTS900 engine installation was originally developed for the canceled ARH-70. A second Block 2 demonstrator is planned, powered by an uprated version of the Rolls-Royce Model 250 engine.
Bell is supporting Army-led development of the Casup improvements, which include moving the targeting sensor under the nose from above the rotor, and it argues that adding a new engine, transmission and rotor would meet AAS requirements at the lowest cost and risk as it capitalizes on the planned $2 billion investment in the F model. The Army plans to begin upgrading its OH-58Ds to -Fs in fiscal 2015, says McCoy.
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The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet was not supposed to live this long. But with the latest slippages in the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and aging fighter forces worldwide, Boeing talks about stretching production to 1,000 aircraft and keeping the line open to the end of the decade, despite the recent loss in India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition. The program is close to 700 aircraft, including 41 additional U.S. Navy aircraft announced this year to mitigate JSF delays.
Active campaigns include Brazil and Denmark. A Middle Eastern customer—possibly Kuwait—has expressed interest. The Super Hornet is Boeing’s candidate for the next Japanese fighter order, competing with the Eurofighter Typhoon and JSF. The idea of another Super Hornet buy is being mooted in Australia, which could face a front-line fighter gap if the JSF slips further. Boeing says a number of JSF partners have asked for information on the Super Hornet.
Boeing’s strategy is not to initiate comparisons with JSF, although Boeing Military Aircraft President Chris Chadwick called Lockheed Martin on the mat in May for what he termed “fundamentally untrue” statements about the Super Hornet’s price. However, Boeing never talks about its product without pointing out that it offers “date and cost-certain” capabilities and that all Super Hornets and Growlers have been delivered on cost, and on or ahead of schedule. Recently, Chadwick suggested that the JSF “might become a niche fighter” on the international market because of its cost.
More details have emerged about the “international roadmap” features that have been disclosed piece-by-piece over the past year. The most visible are the conformal fuel tanks (CFT) above the body and the low-radar-cross-section (RCS) centerline weapons pod. Those are to be wind tunnel-tested this year, with a decision on a flight-test program to follow.
The CFTs carry 3,200 lb. of fuel. Boeing says they have no net drag at cruising speed, because they reduce trim drag enough to offset their added frontal area. As a result, a configuration with CFTs and a centerline tank delivers as much range as a three-tank configuration today. The weapon pod carries four AIM-120 missiles, a 2,000-lb. bomb or two 500-lb.-class weapons.
Transonic acceleration and specific excess power, particularly when temperatures at altitude are high, were criticized on the Super Hornet when it entered service. A roadmap option is an enhanced-performance engine (EPE) variant of the General Electric F414, offering up to a 20% thrust boost. That would take the EPE to 26,500 lb. of thrust, giving it the best thrust/weight ratio of any fighter engine—almost 11:1. It has a new core, based on demonstrations conducted with U.S. government funds in 2004 and 2006, and a redesigned fan and compressor. A third test engine was run in 2010.
GE says that it has developed 17 new or derivative engines successfully from the same technology readiness level. Unfortunately, India did not accept that argument.
Also on the roadmap menu is a spherical-coverage missile-approach warning system and an infrared search-and-track (IRST) system in a chin pod. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are working on a repackaged, updated version of the AAS-42 IRST (originally developed in the 1980s for the Grumman F-14D) for the Navy’s Hornet fleet, carried in a modified fuel tank. Boeing is open to other options for the international aircraft. (Japan, for instance, has its own domestic IRST technology on the F-15J Kai upgrade.)
Inside the cockpit, a new option is a big-screen display comprising an 11 X 19-in. panel, which could be flight-tested next year. Based on commercial technology, the panel is a hedge against obsolescence and a potential cost-saver as well as offering options for new display formats. A low-profile head-up display using digital LCD projection eliminates the big optical box that previously ruled out a panoramic display.
Boeing has been taking a working model of the big-screen cockpit to trade shows and bases worldwide, both to promote it and to get pilot reactions to conceptual display formats.
Although Boeing is careful to keep the “international” label attached to the new options, they are all designed for retrofit to Block 2 aircraft, all but 24 of which belong to the U.S. Navy. And while the modified aircraft will not directly match the F-35C in signatures, it closes the gap in RCS and range (with the CFTs), is lighter and more powerful, and current estimates say it will be less expensive to buy and operate.
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Upcoming national elections in Switzerland and Denmark could re-energize fighter competitions there, although the outcomes are far from certain.
The Danes will cast votes for their representatives in the fall, and industry officials believe the outcome could shape the fighter procurement process, which is unfolding slowly. Last year, Denmark delayed a decision on whether to buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Boeing F/A-18E/F or Saab Gripen NG; but a U.S. industry official says the country’s involvement in NATO’s Libyan operations has put renewed focus on fighters and could lead to an acceleration of the program.
Less certain is whether the competitive landscape could change again. Copenhagen earlier opened the door to a new competitor, when it allowed the F/A-18E/F into the battle. Now Eurofighter Typhoon officials are ramping up efforts to jump back into the fray as well.
The situation in Switzerland is similarly fluid. Last year, the government decided to halt the F-5 replacement program to save money and effectively deferred introduction of a new aircraft to no earlier than the end of the decade. The move was a setback for Saab, Eurofighter and the Dassault Aviation Rafale, which were in the running and had undergone extensive trials; Boeing had earlier withdrawn its bid.
The Swiss defense ministry, meanwhile, has begun an assessment on whether the F-5s can be upgraded again to bridge any operational gap. At the same time, Bern is still devising financing plans on how to pay for the eventual Tiger replacement, with a report due by year-end.
But the two chambers of the Swiss parliament are raising objections to the decision by the Federal Council, or executive branch, to hold off on the fighter modernization effort. The National Council, the lower house of the Federal Assembly, has passed a motion to expedite the program, with the other chamber arguing that the replacement decision should come during the next legislative period during 2012-15. But there are differences between the motions passed by the two chambers, which are due to be reconciled in September.
Whether the competitive arena shifts again, or whether any accelerated modernization planning will open the door again to other players, remains uncertain. A European industry official believes a type selection could come late this year or early next, which would restrict the competition to the Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon. The bids put forward by Swiss industry remain valid until the end of the year.
Another element of uncertainty is how the Tiger replacement might be funded. The program to buy roughly 22 aircraft is expected to cost 4 billion Swiss francs ($4.7 billion). Options being studied include raising taxes, generating savings in other areas or selling infrastructure such as airports.
The stakes are high in both contests for all players. Saab, for instance, is eager to secure an export order in Europe for its Gripen, particularly in light of being eliminated from the Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft program. Lockheed Martin is looking to Denmark to further expand its European footprint for the F-35. And for Eurofighter, completing deals in Switzerland and Denmark would bolster the company’s effort to secure more European air force orders while supporting its argument to new operators—in Eastern Europe, for example—that acquiring Typhoon offers huge interoperability potential and cooperation opportunities.
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Surrogate flight tests of the software and systems for the Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned combat aircraft system demonstrator (UCAS-D) have resulted in “hands-free” landings of an F/A-18 Hornet on a U.S. Navy carrier.
Controlled by the avionics and software from the X-47B, the F/A-18 conducted 58 coupled approaches to the USS Eisenhower on July 2, including 16 intentional touch-and-gos and six arrested landings, program officials say.
The tests keep the UCAS-D program on track for carrier trials of the unmanned X-47B in 2013. The first aircraft has flown at Edwards AFB, California, and both air vehicles will be delivered to the NAS Patuxent River, Md., test center for shore-based testing in 2012.
Acting as a surrogate, the F/A-18 showed the X-47B will be able to land autonomously under command from the ship. The tests included 28 straight-in, or Case 1, instrument approaches where the unmanned system took over control 8 mi. behind the ship.
The other 30 were visual, or Case 3, approaches where the system took over control as the F/A-18 passed the carrier on the downwind leg and then turned the aircraft on to its final approach, says Capt. Jaime Engdahl, Navy UCAS program manager.
Flights were conducted using precision GPS and Tactical Targeting Network Technology high-speed data links to navigate relative to the carrier and send commands to the aircraft.
Engdahl says the tests demonstrated the Navy’s distributed control concept, in which a mission operator on the carrier always has positive control of the aircraft, but the ship’s air traffic controller, the air boss in the tower and landing signals officer on the flight deck can send commands to the unmanned vehicle as they would to a manned aircraft.
“You send basic commands to the aircraft and the system calculates all the paths itself and puts together a profile,” says Don Blottenberger, deputy program manager. “The carrier exercises oversight and override, everything else is automated.”
The next steps are to complete flight-envelope expansion at Edwards and then ship the X-47Bs to Patuxent River for shore-based catapult launches, arrested landings and carrier pattern work through 2012, Engdahl says.
Further surrogate test flights are planned next year, working with the USS Truman, and one of the X-47Bs will be hoisted aboard the carrier to evaluate maneuvering of the unmanned aircraft on the flight deck.
Carrier trials of the X-47B in 2013 will be followed in 2014 by flight tests of autonomous aerial refueling. Flight tests for this phase of the program will begin late this year using a Learjet as a surrogate.
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Flooding along the Missouri River has headed eastward toward central Missouri, but officials say so far it doesn’t appear to be as threatening as it was in northwest Missouri.
US Army black hawk helicopter crews from the Missouri National Guard are flying in sandbags to stop the water’s flow. The UH-60 black hawks dropped about 150, one-ton sandbags to prop up the sugar creek levee near Waverly, Missouri in Atchison county.
A surge from dam releases, along with water from recent rainstorms, started pouring over levees in two counties overnight Saturday. All that extra water caused flooding and prompted evacuations.
Floodwaters nearly overran levees in Ray County, and sandbagging and levee repairs continued near Orrick and Hardin. Tom Waters, president of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District, told The Kansas City Star that a section of levee in Carroll County has also been damaged.
But he said the effect in mid-Missouri would not likely be as bad as it has been in northwest Missouri, where it displaced hundreds of people and flooded thousands of acres of farmland.
Amtrak has also suspended some of its service between Kansas City and St. Louis because of flooding along tracks in the region.
In Norborne, farmers were racing to shore up a crumbling levee with giant soybean seed bags filled with more than 2,000 pounds of sand.
But getting the sandbags in place on the Sugar Tree levee is another matter. The levee along the Missouri River in Carroll County is too soft to bear heavy equipment.
The levee near Norborne protects thousands of acres of farmland. And farmers don’t want to see the land swamped in a year when they’re getting good prices for good crops.
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Tiger Airways Australia, a subsidiary of Singapore-based Tiger Airways Holdings, was grounded Saturday for five days by Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority over a series of safety issues with their A320 planes.
In an unprecedented move, CASA said it no longer had “confidence in the ability of Tiger Airways Australia to satisfactorily address the safety issues that have been identified.” CASA has been monitoring TT since January; it issued a “show cause” notice in April expressing concerns. Following TT’s response to the show cause notice, CASA said it imposed a number of conditions on the airline’s air operator’s certificate.
According to CASA, these conditions required actions to improve the proficiency of TT’s pilots, enhance the airline’s pilot training and checking processes, make changes to fatigue management, improve maintenance control and ongoing airworthiness systems, and ensure appropriately qualified people fill management and operational positions.
CASA is expected to apply to Australian federal court to extend the grounding beyond the five days, a move that could keep the airline’s 10 Airbus A320s idle for some time. Two safety breaches by TT pilots over the past week, including an incident of flying too low, prompted CASA to ground the airline.
Tiger Airways Holdings CEO Tony Davis arrived in Australia Monday to take charge of negotiations with CASA. In a statement, Davis said he was “very disappointed” that the airline had been grounded.
Though CASA declined to comment, industry sources said the watchdog wants the airline to make a range of management changes and to re-qualify all of its pilots in third-party simulators before allowing operations to recommence. The requirements could take up to a month to fulfill, affecting up to 35,000 passengers a week. The weekly cost to TT in lost revenue is estimated at as much as A$1.5 million ($1.7 million).
TT’s grounding comes less than two weeks after the release of a report by Australia’s Senate on airline safety that included 22 recommendations. High among them were tougher safety standards, better incident-reporting guidelines and increased training of pilots.
CASA grounded Ansett Australia’s Boeing 767 fleet in 2000 and 2001 over various safety breaches. The airline collapsed in September 2001.
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With little fanfare, the Kennedy Space Center shuttle launch team gathered Tuesday to begin the 135th and last countdown at 1 p.m. for a shuttle launch, aiming to get Atlantis and its four-member crew off the ground at 11:26 a.m. EDT on Friday.
“The team gets into the mode of ‘This is launch countdown,’ and that’s really the focus that everybody has,” says NASA test director Jeremy Graeber. “To do it one more time is a great feeling.”
The only cloud on the horizon for an on-time liftoff is, predictably, Florida’s thunderstorm-prone summer weather. With a front expected to move over the mid-Atlantic coast on Thursday, meteorologists with the U.S; Air Force’s 45th Space Wing are forecasting a 60% chance weather will delay launch.
“We’ll have real high moisture on Friday,” says shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters. “When we have high moisture, particularly in the low levels, we can pop those thunderstorms and showers early when the sea breeze forms.”
Specifically, the forecast calls for a chance of showers and thunderstorms within 20 nm of the Shuttle Landing Facility, a violation of NASA flight rules that protect for a contingency landing at the launch site, and cumulus clouds within 10 nm of Launch Pad 39A, where Atlantis stands poised for liftoff. The forecast improves for launch attempts on Saturday and/or Sunday, after which the Eastern Test Range schedule shifts to support a Delta 4 rocket launch on July 14 with a GPS satellite for the Air Force. The shuttle’s next launch window opens July 16 if the Delta launches on time.
The abridged, four-member STS-135 crew, headed by Navy Capt. (ret) Christopher Ferguson, arrived at the Florida spaceport Monday afternoon in a pair of T-38 training jets.
“It’s such a pleasure to come down here when you have a rocket on the pad and it’s got your stuff loaded on it,” astronaut Rex Walheim tells reporters gathered at the landing strip.
NASA pared the last shuttle crew from the normal six or seven members to four to accommodate an emergency return on Russian Soyuz capsules, as there is no second shuttle available to mount a rescue mission should Atlantis sustain significant enough damage during launch or while in orbit to prevent a safe re-entry. NASA has preserved a safe haven option for shuttle crewmembers aboard the International Space Station and shuttle rescue capability since returning the fleet to flight after the 2003 Columbia accident.
Ferguson, Walheim, pilot Douglas Hurley and mission specialist Sandra Magnus were all fitted for Soyuz Sokol spacesuits, though just Walheim’s is flying with the STS-135 cargo. The others would be flown to the station as needed.
“The plan would basically change the sequence of when people would come down,” Walheim said in a preflight interview. “Some of the folks on the space station would stay longer than they anticipated, and then as spots free up we’d cycle our crew down one by one. [Russia] also will launch Soyuz spacecraft with just two people instead of three, which leaves a spot for them to come down with one of our crewmembers. We will kind of methodically do that until everybody’s rotated down.” Walheim would be the first to return, followed by Ferguson, Magnus and Hurley.
The goal of NASA’s final shuttle flight is to deliver a year’s worth of food, clothing, supplies and equipment to the space station to buy time in case NASA’s commercial cargo resuppliers, Space Exploration Technologies and Orbital Sciences Corp., encounter technical delays with their programs.