Upgrade for Fire Scout VTOL UAV Approved

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The Pentagon has approved the requirement for an “endurance upgrade” to the U.S. Navy’s Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system, with a larger air vehicle to provide increased payload and range to support special operations forces.

After also evaluating the Boeing A160T Hummingbird and Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-Max unmanned helicopters, the program office has recommended using the Bell 407 airframe, Capt. Patrick Smith, the Navy’s Fire Scout program manager, said Aug. 17 at the AUVSI International show in Washington.

The program office’s recommendation has yet to be endorsed by Navy leadership, but Northrop and Bell are already jointly developing an unmanned version of the civil Bell 407 light turbine helicopter, called the Fire-X, which first flew in December.

“The MQ-8C endurance upgrade package started as a joint urgent operational need statement from Special Operations Command. The requirement was validated [on Aug. 16] by the office of the secretary of defense,” Smith says.

“Our recommendation is to go with the 407 airframe, based on the time frame limitations,” he says. The requirement is to develop the larger MQ-8C within 24 months, for deployment in 2014, with plans to acquire 28 air vehicles over three years.

Plans to arm the basic MQ-8B Fire Scout, which is based on a Schweizer 333 helicopter, also have been approved. The rapid deployment capability program calls for fielding within 18 months, possibly on the Littoral Combat Ship, Smith says.

The Navy has selected a laser-guided 70 mm rocket, BAE Systems’ Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), as the initial weapon because it has existing safety approval for deployment on ships.

“Northrop Grumman will conduct a demonstration of Raytheon’s Griffin later this month, and we would like to become weapon-agnostic,” he says. Griffin is a 35-lb. tube-launched laser-guided mini-missile.

The Navy, meanwhile, has confirmed that an MQ-8B that went down over Libya on June 21 while operating from the USS Halyburton was “lost to enemy fire.” Communications and radar contact was lost while the aircraft was flying below cloud cover in an area where other allied aircraft had already come under heavy anti-aircraft fire.


Doomsday defense cuts hit close to home

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For the dozen lawmakers tasked with producing a deficit-cutting plan, the threatened “doomsday” defense cuts hit close to home.

The six Republicans and six Democrats represent states where the biggest military contractors — Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon Co. and Boeing Co. — build missiles, aircraft, jet fighters and tanks while employing tens of thousands of workers.

The potential for $500 billion more in defense cuts could force the Pentagon to cancel or scale back multibillion-dollar weapons programs. That could translate into significant layoffs in a fragile economy, generate millions less in tax revenues for local governments and upend lucrative company contracts with foreign nations.

The cuts could hammer Everett, Washington, where some of the 30,000 Boeing employees are working on giant airborne refueling tankers for the Air Force, or Amarillo, Texas, where 1,100 Bell Helicopter Textron workers assemble the fuselage, wings, engines and transmissions for the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

Billions in defense cuts would be a blow to the hundreds working on upgrades to the Abrams tank for General Dynamics in Lima, Ohio, or the employees of BAE Systems in Pennsylvania.

For committee members such as Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., the threat of Pentagon cuts is an incentive to come up with $1.5 trillion in savings over a decade. Failure would have brutal implications for hundreds of thousands workers back home and raise the potential of political peril for the committee’s 12.

“I think we all have very good reasons to try to prevent” the automatic cuts, Toomey told reporters last week when pressed about the impact on Pennsylvania’s defense industry. “That is not the optimal outcome here, the much better outcome would be a successful product from this committee.”

The panel has until Thanksgiving to come up with recommendations. If they deadlock or if Congress rejects their proposal, $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts kick in. Up to $500 billion would hit the Pentagon.

Those cuts, starting in 2013, would be in addition to the $350 billion, 10-year reduction already dictated by the debt-limit bill approved by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama this month.

Not surprisingly, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has described the automatic cuts as the “doomsday mechanism.” He’s warned that the prospect of nearly $1 trillion in reductions over a decade would seriously undermine the military’s ability to protect the United States.

For the Pentagon, “we’re talking about cuts of such magnitude that everything is reduced to some degree,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank. “At that rate, you’re eliminating the next generation of weapons.”

Committee members will face competing pressures as they try to produce a deficit-reducing plan.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton if Obama wins a second term, Sen. John Kerry is certain to be protective of the budget for the State Department.

Yet the Massachusetts Democrat, who recently said he would seek a sixth term in 2014, represents a state that was fifth in the nation with $8.37 billion in defense contracts this year, behind Virginia, California, Texas and Connecticut, according to data on the federal government’s website USAspending.gov.

In Tewksbury and Andover, Mass., deep defense cuts could have serious ramifications for thousands of Raytheon employees working on the Patriot, the air and missile defense system. It was heralded for its effectiveness during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and is now sold to close to a dozen nations, including South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates.

Whatever decisions Kerry and the committee make will affect Massachusetts-based Raytheon, which was fourth in defense contracts this year at $7.3 billion, behind Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics. Raytheon also has operations in Arizona, home to another committee member, Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.

“While some will argue there is peril in serving on this committee, we believe there is far greater peril in leaving these issues unaddressed,” Kerry said in a joint statement with Murray and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., after they were selected by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

In February, Murray celebrated when the Air Force ended a decade-long saga of delays and missteps and awarded one of the biggest defense contracts ever, a $35 billion deal to build nearly 200 air refueling tankers, to Boeing, a mainstay in her home state.

Boeing was fourth on the list of donors to Murray from 2007-2012, with its political action committee, individual employees and family members contributing $102,610.

Michigan is home to two committee members, Republican Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton, and General Dynamics work on the Abrams tank. The state is struggling with a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, which is above the national average.

Already facing the prospect of $350 billion in defense cuts over 10 years, the Pentagon could look to scale back some projects, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the stealthy aircraft that has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.

Lockheed Martin, in conjunction with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, is building 2,400 of the next generation fighter jet for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as working with eight foreign countries. But the cost of the program has jumped from $233 billion to $385 billion; some estimates suggest that it could top out at $1 trillion over 50 years.

Questioned about the defense cuts, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen recently said that “programs that can’t meet schedule, that can’t meet cost … requirements are very much in jeopardy and will be very much under scrutiny.”

The Joint Strike Fighter is being built in Fort Worth, Texas, and Palmdale and El Segundo, Calif. Those are the states of committee members Reps. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems also have operations in Pennsylvania.

The Pentagon could decide to scrap the program or scale it back while upgrading the existing F-15 and F-18 aircraft, a troubling prospect for lawmakers from the states that benefit from F-35 production.

In the military world, however, reducing the number could make it more costly.

“The problem when you cut back in numbers is you increase the number for one, you increase the cost for one,” said Laicie Olson, a senior policy analyst with Council for a Livable World and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “Sometimes it’s almost better to buy more.”

Boeing, in a statement, said it has been “anticipating flattening defense budgets for some time.” Company spokesman Daniel C. Beck said that while Boeing is trying to improve production and efficiency, it’s moving into new markets such as cybersecurity and energy management.


Telemetry Lost During Hypersonic Test Flight

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The U.S. Air Force and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are setting up an engineering review board to investigate the loss of the second, and final, Hypersonic Test Vehicle (HTV-2) shortly after launch from Vandenberg AFB, California, on Aug 11.

Contact with the vehicle was lost around nine minutes into the flight. In accordance with loss-of-signal precautions the HTV-2 destroyed itself before completing a third of its planned 30-min Mach 20 gliding flight towards a target area near the Kwajalein Atoll.

In its first statement on the failed test, Darpa says “the Minotaur IV vehicle successfully inserted the aircraft into the desired trajectory. Separation of the vehicle was confirmed by rocket cam and the aircraft transitioned to Mach 20 aerodynamic flight. This transition represents a critical knowledge and control point in maneuvering atmospheric hypersonic flight. More than nine minutes of data was collected before an anomaly caused loss of signal. Initial indications are that the aircraft impacted the Pacific Ocean along the planned flight path.”

Darpa HTV-2 program manager Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz says “we know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight. We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight. It’s vexing; I’m confident there is a solution. We have to find it.”

HTV-2 was designed to demonstrate the high lift-to-drag aerodynamics and high-temperature materials needed for sustained hypersonic flight, with the goal of validating technology for a vehicle able to reach anywhere in the world in 60 min.

The Aug. 11 test was a repeat of the first HTV-2 flight last April which ended when a control anomaly developed at around the same point in the flight. The second vehicle was modified with a sturdier flight control system as a result of investigations into the loss of the first HTV-2, though it is not yet known if these changes had any impact on controllability or if the second loss was due to unrelated causes.

Data from the review board will “inform policy, acquisition and operational decisions for future Conventional Prompt Global Strike programs—the goal of which, ultimately, is to have the capability to reach anywhere in the world in less than one hour,” says Darpa in the statement.


Atlas V selected to boost CST-100

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Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation vehicle, the CST-100, will climb to orbit aboard the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket through a series of unpiloted and piloted test flights planned for 2015-16, officials from the two companies announced Aug. 4.

A series of three test flights with the Atlas V and the seven-person CST-100 capsule are planned for 2015; with sufficient funding from NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program, Boeing could be ready to begin transporting astronauts to the International Space Station aboard the re-usable capsule in the first quarter of 2016 with all-NASA crews, says John Elbon, Boeing vice president and program manager of the company’s Houston-based Commercial Crew Program.

Boeing becomes the third of four companies developing a crew transportation service under the $270 million NASA CCDev-2 initiative announced earlier this year to select Centennial, Colo.-based ULA and the Atlas V for the launch component. The Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting body space plane and the Blue Origin capsule are the others.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., has naturally chosen its own Falcon 9 for crewed as well as cargo versions of its Dragon capsule.

“This is the quickest way to close the gap and get U.S. crews flying again,” Elbon told reporters during a briefing. “It’s an affordable approach that will leave NASA funding to develop capabilities for exploration beyond low Earth orbit.”

With the retirement of the long-running space shuttle program last month, NASA must rely on Russia’s venerable Soyuz for the transportation of astronauts to and from the space station until U.S. commercial providers are available.

Elbon and George Sowers, ULA vice president of business development, laid out a flight test schedule that would follow a 2014 pad abort demonstration of the CST-100. Unpiloted flight tests would follow with an orbital systems checkout in the first quarter of 2015 and an abort demonstration at maximum dynamic pressure in mid-2015. The CST-100, crewed with Boeing test pilots, would attempt a rendezvous with the space station in late 2015. With sufficient develop funds, Boeing would be ready to launch its first NASA crews to the orbiting science laboratory in the first quarter of 2016.

Boeing selected the Atlas V 412 version, which is the core rocket configured with a single solid-rocket booster and a dual engine Centaur upper stage, for the test and demonstration phase. Operations are planned for Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Boeing completed an evaluation process in late July that included assessments of the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the ATK/Astrium Liberty rocket that would combine first and second stages from the U.S. and European partnership, as well as ULA’s Atlas V.

The final selection was based on performance, reliability and cost, Elbon says. The Atlas V has scored 26 consecutive launch successes for national security, NASA and commercial payloads.

Nonetheless, Boeing intends to host a second launch component competition for operations beyond the 2015-16 test activities, Elbon said.

On July 18, ULA and NASA announced an unfunded Space Act Agreement to start qualifying the Atlas V as a human-rated spacecraft for CCDev-2 participants. The effort includes a “part-by-part” assessment of the rocket, a probabilistic risk assessment of spacecraft safety and a systems requirement review.

ULA also is working on an Emergency Detection System (EDS) as part of the initiative with $6.7 million in federal stimulus funding the company received under the 2010 CCDev-1 program. The EDS in combination with pad escape systems, also in development, should make a significant contribution to matching NASA’s human rating requirements, according to Elbon and Sowers.

ULA was formed in 2006 as a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin to produce the Delta IV as well as the Atlas V under the U. S. Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.


Zeppelin returns to the U.S. through AirVenture

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AirVenture — The first Zeppelin to fly in the U.S. skies since the Hindenburg crashed in flames 74 years ago is here to give joyrides.

But the two are worlds apart, in technology, time and safety.

The Hindenburg, the first regularly scheduled aerial passenger service between the U.S. and Europe, was a an 803 ft long behemoth with a gas capacity of 706 million cu ft, and sleeping berths for 72 passengers. It was operated by a crew of 40 officers and men, and up to 12 stewards and kitchen staff. It was kept aloft by hydrogen, which was ultimately its downfall.

The Farmers Insurance Zeppelin NT here this week, built by the revived ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik company in Friedrichschafen, Germany, is just over a quarter the length of the Hindenburg, at 246 ft, and carries up to 12 passengers and two crew. Most importantly, it is filled with 290,000 cu ft of non-flammable hydrogen. It is powered by three 200-hp variable pitch, vectoring Lycoming piston engines, two on the hull and the third at the rear.

Unlike the well-known Goodyear airships, which are inflated bags known as blimps, the Zeppelin NT is a semi-dirigible with a structure of graphite reinforced plastic and three longitudinal aluminum girders that carry the motors and passenger gondola.

In that respect the new Zeppelins also differ from those of the past, which had a rigid skeleton covered in fabric that enclosed the decks and lounges and accommodated the huge gasbags.

Earlier this year, Goodyear committed to replace its famous blimps with three of the new Zeppelins, which will be assembled near Akron, Ohio. Each will cost about $21 million each, with technical support, and the first is slated for delivery in 2014. Interestingly, Goodyear worked with Zeppelin 90 years ago to introduce the rigid airships U.S.S. Macon and U.S.S. Akron to the U.S. Navy.

The Farmers Zeppelin, which is usually based in San Francisco and operated by Airship Adventures of California, will be giving rides at AirVenture through July 31.


Chinese fighters chased U.S. spy plane according to reports

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Two Chinese Su-27 fighters penetrated Taiwan’s airspace June 29 and were turned back by Taiwan Air Force fighters. The incident is believed to be the first serious Chinese fighter incursion into Taiwan airspace since 1999.

Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed the incursion in a news release on Monday, but would not verify local Chinese-language media reports that the Su-27s were chasing a U.S. surveillance aircraft.

The U.S. Pacific Command did not respond to inquiries about the incident.

An MND source said it is not Taiwan’s duty to protect U.S. surveillance aircraft and the incident is not considered serious.

“There is a line between the two sides, and if any Chinese aircraft flies too close, we will respond,” he said. “If they cross the line, we treat it as a hostile act, but occasionally they fly close to the line, and to be honest, this happens all the time and is not a real problem.”

The June 29 incident was an “unintentional” and “inadvertent” incursion by Chinese fighter aircraft, he said. “The Chinese military has no intention of antagonizing Taiwan” because relations across the Strait are “calm” and there is “no reason for trouble.”

The news comes as Taipei pushes the U.S. to release 66 F-16C/D fighters. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last week that Washington would make a final decision on the fighters by Oct. 1.

Local media reports said the Su-27s were trying to catch a U-2 spy plane conducting a surveillance mission out of Osan Air Base, South Korea. The reports said the U-2 diverted to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, to avoid the Chinese fighters.

But surveillance aircraft specialist Chris Pocock was skeptical. There are only three U-2s based in East Asia, all at Osan, to watch North Korea, Pocock said.

“They may also fly southwards along the China coast as far as Taiwan, but not on a routine basis,” he said.

The aircraft might have been a Navy EP-3 Aries or Air Force RC-135, which operate at lower altitudes and have been harassed by Chinese fighters in the past.

In 2000, two Chinese J-8 fighters intercepted an Air Force RC-135 in international airspace above the East China Sea. A year later, a J-8 fighter collided with a Navy EP-3 Aries near Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

Despite Chinese complaints, the U.S. surveillance aircraft flies regular missions along China’s coastline. They stay in international airspace because straying into Chinese territory would make them easy targets for S-300PMU-1/2 and Hongqi-10 surface-to-air missiles.

During the Cold War, Taiwan’s Black Bat 34th Squadron flew similar missions with three P-3A Orion signals intelligence aircraft. As well, China shot down five U-2 spy planes operated by Taiwan’s Black Cat 35th Squadron over Chinese territory. Both programs were handled by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Taiwan will soon take delivery of 12 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft for anti-submarine patrols. The aircraft will replace aging Grumman S-2T Tracker anti-submarine aircraft. Taiwan technically has two squadrons of the S-2T, but sources say that only a handful are still operational.

Taiwan has attempted to procure signals intelligence aircraft in the past from the U.S., but procurement problems and budget delays have hampered the acquisition. Taiwan has one EC-130 for surveillance operations, but it is limited in mission scope.


First of three Boeing P-8A aircraft takes initial flight

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Boeing announced yesterday, July 19, that the first of three production 737-derived Boeing P-8A maritime patrol aircraft that will be used in the U.S. Navy’s flight-test evaluations completed nearly 6 hr. of initial flight evaluations on July 7.

Besides putting the first production P-8A into the air, the flights also marked the first test of the CFM International CFM56-7BE engines on the P-8.

Three previous flight-test articles used standard CFM56-7Bs that do not have the lower fuel-burn improvements of the “evolved” engine series. The first 737 with these -7BE engines for a commercial customer is due for delivery shortly to China Southern Airlines. Combined with aerodynamic improvements, the engines should lower 737 fuel burn by 2%.

Called LRIP-1, the newest P-8A is the first of six low-rate initial production aircraft that Boeing is building under a $1.6 billion contract awarded in January.

Besides offering flight-test crews a chance to test the basic operating parameters of the aircraft and its engines, the second of the July 7 flights served to transfer the airplane from Boeing’s dedicated P-8 final assembly manufacturing line at its 737 factory in Renton, Washington, to the P-8 mission systems installation facility at Boeing Field in Seattle.

The LRIP contract calls for Boeing to produce three production-level aircraft for the P-8A flight-test program at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.

The flight-test aircraft already are at work. But they do not have the full mission systems suites of production aircraft.

LRIP-1 is to reach Patuxent River next year. After a year of flight testing it is slated to join the fleet in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2013.

The first day’s flight took off at 11:03 a.m. PDT and landed at 2:21 p.m. The aircraft was brought back to Renton for evaluation before a second flight at 5:11 p.m. and touching down at Boeing Field at 7:50 p.m.


ULA Will Work With NASA On CCDev-2

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About 30 NASA engineers from across the agency will work with counterparts from United Launch Alliance (ULA) under a new agreement to begin qualifying the Atlas V rocket as a human-rated launch vehicle for private spacecraft being developed under the second round of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev-2) effort.

Under a space act agreement (SAA), NASA and ULA will spend 6-9 months going though the Atlas V “part by part” to ensure it meets the human-rating requirements NASA has released in draft form. ULA also will continue work on the Emergency Detection System (EDS) it started developing with $6.7 million in federal stimulus funding under last year’s CCDev-1 program. Each party will pay for its own work under the unfunded SAA.

“The modifications required for Atlas V are pretty minimal,” George Sowers, ULA vice president for business development, said in a press teleconference July 18. “Probably the major one from the launch vehicle standpoint is the addition of this Emergency Detection System.”

Under development for both Atlas V and Delta IV, which is in the running to launch the Lockheed Martin Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the EDS is a vehicle health-monitoring system designed to detect an imminent launch-vehicle failure and alert the crew riding atop it of the need to abort.

Companies developing two of the four CCDev-2 human spacecraft — the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser lifting-body spaceplane and the Blue Origins capsule — have selected Atlas V as their preferred launcher, and Boeing is considering it for its CST-100 capsule. All three designs include launch-abort systems. In combination with the EDS and pad-escape systems also in development, the Atlas V should meet NASA’s human-certification requirements, Sowers says.

“I personally don’t foresee any additional redundancy requirements,” he says. “The Atlas V is currently single-fault tolerant in most of the active failure modes, but a detailed assessment of that down through all the different parts and failure modes is part of what we’re trying to accomplish during this SAA.”

Sowers says ULA already is working with Sierra Nevada and Blue Origins, using those companies’ CCDev-2 funding as well as its own, to adapt the EDS to their vehicles. Under the SAA with NASA, the company will develop hazard analyses to fly humans on the Atlas V, develop a probabilistic risk assessment of the vehicle’s safety and conduct a systems requirement review.

Full-scale certification of the vehicle as safe for flight will be conducted at the system level of launch and crew vehicles, according to Ed Mango, NASA’s commercial crew program manager. Mango says the agency hopes to have at least one commercial crew vehicle ready to fly — either on an Atlas V or the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 — by “mid-decade.”


American deals with AerCap for 35 B737-800 aircraft

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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.