Suppliers conference in Mobile focuses on US aerospace sector in Southeast

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Oct. 31, 2017: A new event, the Southeast Aerospace and Defence Conference (SADC) scheduled for June 25-27 in Mobile (AL), will examine the commercial, defense, space and corporate aerospace sectors in the US Southeast.

The conference is organized by Airfinance Journal and Leeham Co., the first joint venture between the two companies.

The US Southeast is a growing aerospace center. Defense and space clusters have decades-long histories in the Southeast. Corporate and commercial clusters are more recent developments, albeit in some cases now well within a second decade.

Airbus’ A320 family Final Assembly Line in Mobile opened in September 2015. The FAL is producing 3.5 A320s per month and will reach its initial target of 4/mo by year end, slightly ahead of schedule. There is land capacity to expand to 8/mo.

Earlier this month, Airbus and Bombardier announced that their new venture will establish an FAL in Mobile.

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Pontifications: Going to space through Mississippi

By Scott Hamilton

Oct. 30, 2017, © Leeham Co., Hancock County (MS): The US Space Shuttle program ended in 2011 and NASA is sending US astronauts to the International Space Station using Russian-made rockets.

But officials want to end reliance on those launch vehicles and are working with US companies to supply the boosters and prepare for a mission to Mars.

Last week, I wrote about Boeing’s efforts to develop the Space Launch System (SLS). I spent the week of Oct. 9 going from Mobile (AL) through the I-10 corridor in Mississippi and ending in New Orleans, gaining a high level understanding of the aerospace footprint in the US Southeast.

The Mississippi portion was arranged by the Mississippi Development Authority. I’ll provide additional reporting in the coming weeks. This week, I focus on NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County (MS), an hour’s drive east of New Orleans.

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Pontifications: Mississippi’s aerospace footprint

By Scott Hamilton

July 17, 2017, © Leeham Co.: Living in the Seattle area, the highest profile, dominant industry is the commercial aerospace sector.

Boeing, of course, headlines just about everything when it comes to aviation.

Boeing’s competition is principally Airbus—or at least it used to be until Boeing claimed teeny tiny Bombardier, a company one-sixth the size of Boeing’s revenues, is poised to put Boeing out of business with BBD’s CSeries.

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Pontifications: Catching up on the KC-46A, KC-30A

Hamilton KING5_2

By Scott Hamilton

April 11, 2016, © Leeham Co.: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that the Boeing KC-46A aerial refueling tanker for the US Air Force has “challenging testing and delivery schedules” ahead in its annual review of the program.

It’s been a long, long time since I wrote about aerial refueling tankers. Having delved into this topic during the long-running saga of the USAF recapitalization effort, and the competitions between Northrop Grumman/EADS and later Airbus alone and Boeing, the topic had been beaten to death.

But as we who follow such things know, Boeing’s current effort to build the winning KC-46A for the Air Force has run into more than a few problems. These have led Boeing to be at least eight months late and write off $1.2bn pre-tax on the program.

And the problems aren’t over.

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Northrop wins, Boeing/Lockheed lose bomber contract

Oct. 27, 2015: Northrop Grumman, builder of the B-2 bomber in the USAF inventory, was awarded the contract to build the next generation long-range bomber, which is yet to be named. For the moment, we’ll call it the “B-3.” For now it’s official name is the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB).

The Seattle Times has this story.

This is a big blow to Boeing, whose declining defense business was already in trouble from defense cutbacks and previous contract losses. The contract is worth $80bn.

Boeing’s strategy in acquiring McDonnell Douglas Corp back in 1997 was to even the revenue stream between commercial and military, in which Boeing then had a small portion and MDC was predominately military. Boeing was a sub-contractor to Northrop on the B-2, gaining a lot of its composite experience there which ultimately benefited development of the 787.

Unless Boeing finds grounds to challenge the contract award, prevails and wins a second competition, its Defense unit will continue to shrink.

Goldman Sachs, as with many other investment banks, called this a big win for Northrop.

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Pontifications: Dueling refueling tankers

By Scott Hamiltn

By Scott Hamilton

Sept. 21, 2015, © Leeham Co.: This Friday, Sept. 25, is the date that at long last, Boeing and the US Air Force expect the first flight of the KC-46A that is equipped with the fueling system.

A “bare” KC-46A made its first flight last December. Then it spent the next six months or so on the ground. First flight of the second KC-46A, the one with the fueling system, has been delayed several times. All the program margin is gone and it’s going to be a challenge for Boeing to stay on schedule to deliver 18 combat-ready KC-46As to the USAF by 2017–two short years away. To try and stay on schedule, Boeing started production of the the airplane concurrent with the flight test aircraft, a risky proposition that could result in major rework or other difficulties if Murphy’s Law comes into play.

The KC-46A is the successor to the KC-767 International tanker program, which was an industrial disaster. Only eight airplanes were produced, four for Italy and four

Boeing KC-46A makes its first flight Sept. 25, 2015. Photo via Google images.

for Japan. It ran years late and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. There were flutter and design issues. These problems became part of the risk assessment by the USAF in the KC-X competition evaluation between Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS–and one of the reasons why the Air Force selected the Northrop KC-330 offering (later named the KC-30).

Boeing successfully challenged the contract award and won the next round with what became known as the KC-46A. Boeing claimed it benefited from lessons learned from the KC-767 International program.

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Pontifications: FAA shouldn’t be surprised at composite fire duration

By Scott Hamiltn

By Scott Hamilton

August 24, 2015, (c) Leeham Co. News that the US Federal Aviation Administration was surprised at the duration of the composite fire with the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 in 2013 came as a surprise to the agency, but it shouldn’t have.

When fire tests were undertaken during the development of the 787, the FAA received comment that the fire testing standards weren’t what they should be from engineers. The FAA largely dismissed these concerns at the time.

More to the point: the take-off crash of a Northrop Grumman B-2 bomber, on which Boeing was a sub-contractor, burned for 24 hours. This should have been a clue to the FAA.

Leeham News and Comment published a long piece March 10, 2009, about composite and aluminum airplane fires after a Boeing 787 on final approach in Laredo (TX) caught fire. The plane landed safely, but the testing was set back months.

I’m reprinting that report in its entirety here.

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Boeing’s MOP and Iran’s nuke program

June 25, 2015: We don’t often stray into military topics, usually confining ourselves to commercial derivative programs like the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, KC-46a, Airbus KC-330 and the like. But, of all places, Politico has an interesting three-screen piece about President Obama’s “Plan B” in case the talks with Iran fail over curbing its nuclear program.

Plan B calls for the prospect of a Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bomber dropping a series Massive Ordnance Penetrators, or MOPs, on targeted Iranian nuke facilities to destroy them. The MOP is a super-bomb, but of non-nuclear design, that is so big and so powerful it can penetrates some 200 feet under ground before it blows up. Boeing designed the MOP.

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Countdown on KC-X tanker award

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EADS CEO Louis Gallois went public today in Europe with his prediction that the USAF will award a tanker contract next month. The best and final bid will be submitted this month.

We previously noted that the final bids were due this month and a contract award expected next month.

Meanwhile, here is an interesting story on the tanker from KING5 TV in Seattle, with this piece.

As readers know, the competition is a price shoot-out. As the KING story notes, Boeing continues to be worried about the benefit EADS has from subsidies found to be illegal by the WTO on the ability to under-price Boeing, but as we noted in this post last year, WTO may not have the effect Boeing fears; the withdrawal of Northrop Grumman as a partner to EADS has a much larger benefit to EADS’ ability to price the airplane.

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Buying Russian for US lift

We have, from time-to-time, joked that the USAF ought to buy a Russian aerial tanker as a way to avoid the Boeing-EADS-Northrop-Airbus rhubarb in the long-running KC-X saga.

Well, here’s news that the US Navy is planning to buy Russian helicopters and United Technology’s Sikorsky helicopter division is not at all happy with this sole-source selection.

Let’s see if all the Buy American crowd gets as wound up over this one as they have in the KC-X contest.