So I get an email today from one of my co-workers. It's a link to a YouTube video with a question: "Is this news for us?"
Well, Rob, I think so.
US Southern Command has posted an extremely intriguing video of a project in El Salvador involving an Israeli Aircraft Industries Heron unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Salvadoran military is involved, but it appears to be SOUTHCOM experimenting with the Heron for the counter-drug mission.
The US military experiments with dozens of UAVs, so why is this news?
A version of the Heron called the "Heron 2" lost a huge US Army contract competition in 2004. It was called the extended range/multipurpose (ERMP) UAV program. The army picked the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc's Sky Warrior, a UAV that falls between the Predator and the Reaper in capability.
The new SOUTHCOM experiment begs the question: Could the Heron re-emerge as a contender to join the US military's inventory?
Canada's plan unveiled last year to invest $240 billion over 20 years in military equipment has transformed the formerly sleepy CANSEC show into a bustling, sprawling event, with three packed exhibit halls, about 7,000 attendees and a nearly full showing by industry.
Watch your back, F-35. Boeing and Eurofighter are pitching the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Typhoon, respectively, here at CANSEC despite Canada's participation in the nine-nation F-35 partnership.
Elbit Systems will unveil a new small tactical unmanned aircraft system (STUAS) at the Paris Air Show. The aircraft will be offered to the US Navy and US Marine Corps, via the newly-formed UAV Dynamics joint venture with General Dynamics.
Peace protestors in Ottawa are extremely polite. One of them even wished me a nice day, even though she thought I was a defense contractor -- or, as her sign put it, "merchant of death".
An industry day scheduled on 26 May to launch the joint unmanned surveiillance target acquisition system (JUSTAS) contract competition was canceled at the last minute by the Canadian government. No explanation.
Canada is the only major NATO power I can think of that lacks a defense industrial policy.
Sikorsky (CH-148 Cyclone) and Bombardier are the most surprising exhibit hall no-shows at CANSEC.
Canada's Viking Air Ltd is proposing to modernize Canada's fleet of DHC-5 Buffalos - designated the CC-115 -- rather than replace them with all new aircraft, such as C-27Js or C-295s.
Ottawa weather in late-May can be as bad as Washington DC weather in early March.
Despite its growing popularity, CANSEC is still not used as a platform for Canadian government or industry to announce major policy or equipment decisions.
1. The $800
million gap in FY10 F-35 budget -- $11.2 billion announced in April dwindled to
$10.4 billion in May - may reflect program's MILCON account
2. BF-1 STOVL
aircraft will start a 12- to 24-flight conversion program to full vertical
landing in July in Fort Worth, and complete in
September at NASPatuxentRiver 3. Frontal-aspect
radar cross section on F-35 will be no different for international variant,
whatever Boeing may claim
ahead to 240-aircraft yearly output, Lockheed wants to learn best practices
from Airbus A320 production system, which also combines a global supply chain
with multiple variants and customer configurations
engineering drawings for all three F-35 variants will be complete in July
6. Finland is in discussions with Joint
Program Office to sign "study contract", which is similar to Spain's current involvement
airframe structure includes 22,000 "penetrations", of which 85% are currently
drilled by automation. Studies ongoing now aim to raise that amount by 5-7%
8. The lift
fan inlet door is also known within the factory as the "'57 Chevy hood"
9. F-35's moving
assembly line to start running at 58 inches an hour by end of 2010 or early
10. After 2.5
years in flight tests, the F-35 program will hit the 100-flight mark on the
Lockheed Martin F-35 chief test pilot Jon Beesley, standing today beneath the wing of the first prototype F-35, explains the fighter's air-to-air capability relative to the F-16. (Note: Beesley is standing under the wing of AA-1, the first Joint Strike Fighter prototype, at Lockheed's plant in Fort Worth, Texas.)
This article is taken from the Flight International leader
article* (issue 5 - 11 May). It is not my writing, but reflects the thinking of the Flight Group editorial team. The article seeks to explain how social media
fits into the larger world of aerospace journalism. Boeing is singled out in this article, but the comments apply generally to the industry as a whole.
Aerospace and social media have forever been intertwined, although
the name has changed over time. Once known simply as "hangar talk", the
conversations were probably tales of heroic flying experiences, held
under open engine cowls.
Today, the hangar looks quite different. The conversation is a global, non-stop, stream of blogs, internet videos and tweets.
Some aerospace bosses, however, seem slow to realise they work in a
new communications world that can't be controlled by traditional public
For example, on the morning of Saturday 26 April, Boeing flew its
P-8A Poseidon for the first time. Not wanting to waste big news on the
weekend, Boeing issued a press release the following Monday and was
last with its own news; onlookers at Renton airport broke the story,
with pictures, on Twitter and the internet.
Separately, several 787 flight-test engineers calling themselves the
Underground Flight Test Bloggers set about chronicling their unit's
contribution to the programme. Employee blogs are often anonymous
platforms for sometimes cynical criticism, but these 787 engineers
openly existed to proclaim the achievements of the much-criticised
Boeing clearly preferred secrecy. The blog was active for just days
before being closed by its authors at the "request" of upper management.
Following the abrupt closure of the Flight Test Blogger's
collaboration, Boeing - ironically by way of its own blog - blasted
users of so-called social media, insisting that "a
comprehensive...company view" is the only "definitive explanation of
Boeing, and its rivals, no doubt wish the world would be satisfied
with their official information, but the fact is that much of what they
do is done in plain view - anybody can watch aircraft taking off - and
their success or failure bears on the lives, livelihoods and
imaginations of a huge and extended community of employees, local
residents, customers, suppliers and enthusiasts.
Boeing and its kind may dream of some good old days when they
operated behind closed doors and eventually unveiled their work to an
admiring audience. But like it or not the world isn't - and never
really was - like that.
To influence the hangar talk, join in. The alternative is like
trying to put the landing gear down after the belly has hit the tarmac.
The scene: Boeing media tour stop on May 15 in Seattle. Paul Summers, EPX program manager, briefs reporters about EPX, but slips in a bit of unexpected news about a related program -- Aerial Common Sensor.
SUMMERS: ... The army recently announced on ACS they made a decision to go with a twin turboprop. That's been released in the public domain now.
ME: Um, really?
SUMMERS: Yes, It happened last week. By virtue of that evolution, the army seems to be going towards a smaller platform.
After making follow-up calls with several industry sources, the picture is a bit more complicated than stated above, but the evidence is very strong that the army has dropped jet-powered aircraft from the Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) strategy.
As promised last week, here's my news update on Australian 737 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) Wedgetail program.
Boeing confident of Australian Wedgetail review By Stephen Trimble
Boeing is confident that a review of Australia's delayed Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system programme will support the technology for service entry.
The Australian government has commissioned an independent review of the basic workings of the modified 737-700's Northrop Grumman multi-role electronic scanned array (MESA) radar, suggesting concerns about its fundamental soundness.
The eight-year-old Wedgetail acquisition programme is running about three years behind schedule, with delays caused by issues with airframe modifications and developmental problems with the aircraft's MESA radar and electronic warfare system.
There I was this afternoon on the patio outside the Museum of Flight just off the ramp at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington. Then comes a Boeing 737 Wedgetail for the Royal Australian Air Force in for a landing. I managed to power on my camera and capture the touchdown and taxi. Stay tuned for follow-up news story based on a briefing today with Boeing's Wedgetail guy in Seattle.
We had a slight mix-up yesterday, and posted the wrong "mystery UCAV" photo that appeared in Air & Cosmos magazine. It has been removed from this blog.
This is the correct photo, and it's actually more interesting. I could be crazy, but I think I see a bubble canopy on this aircraft, which would seem to rule out the "UCAV" theory! The plot thickens ...
Boeing is scheduled to deliver the last C-17 (airframe P-205) to the US Air Force on Aug. 18, 2010, which is about 15 months away.
That makes what happens in the Senate today very interesting. The House Appropriations committee last week added eight C-17s to its version of the Fiscal 2009 war supplemental bill. The Senate appropriations committee will meet today. Fifteen Senators have published a statement urging their colleagues on the committee to add 15 C-17s, but an industry source says the C-17 program is expecting "eight or less".
I'll be trying to follow the Senate action from -- appropriately enough -- a guided tour of the C-17 production line in Long Beach, California.
But the C-17 story will get more interesting as the summer goes on. The USAF is buying 205 C-17s to replace more than 300 retired Lockheed C-141s. More C-17s could be needed to if the USAF is allowed to retire the oldest 30 C-5As as well. But Senator Ted Kennedy and former Senator Joe Biden teamed up a few years ago to legally block the USAF from retiring any C-5As. With Biden now vice president, is Kennedy powerful enough himself to preserve the C-5A retirement ban -- and, with it, the likley fate of Westover AFB in Massachusettes -- if the Department of Defense makes a push to over-turn it?
France's Air & Cosmos magazine has published this photo of a mystery unmanned combat air vehicle flying over Kandahar in 2007. The magazine kindly provided the photo to The DEW Line for posting here. Interestingly, Air & Cosmos has owned this picture for two years. It was printed for the first time last month after UVonline.com reporter Darren Lake posted an artist's rendering of a similar (and perhaps identical) mystery UCAV also spotted at Kandahar. Air & Cosmos (subcription-only) also reports that its editors have also spotted a mysterious kite-shaped UAV flying over Kandahar as well.
[UPDATE: I have a new video at the top from the tour of the orbiter processing facility.]
Set amidst the typical round-the-clock briefings and travel of a corporate media tour, yesterday offered that very rare thing: pleasurable sightseeing! As you can see, the tour inside the Orbiter Processing Facility, where we stood directly beneath the shuttle Discovery, turned our pack of veteran aerospace journalists into awestruck tourists. Boeing employee Albert Fazio is the speaker.
Here we are inside NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building as Fazio explains how the massive facility will adjust to the Ares rocket program.
Call it a classic shot of E-ring schadenfreude or a clever joke perpetrated by computer. Either way, this painfully awkward portrait of the Joint Chiefs of Staff currently making the email rounds is hilarious. For one, there is the inexplicably posed distance between Gen Norton Schwartz and his fellow officers. But the best part is Schwartz's botched title. (Click on the image to see a magnified version.) Can't the US Air Force get any respect these days?
The Boeing X-45C will finally get a chance to fly. The manufacturer today announced the new "Phantom Ray" testbed based on the unflown X-45C airframe will perform a series of 10 flights starting in 2010. A Boeing spokesman tells FlightGlobal.com that the Phantom Ray is not focused at any particular program or competition.
"It's just that we have this asset and obviously UAVs are a huge part of the fleet ... and we want to obviously be a part of that and we think the Phantom Ray certainly has potential to use those technologies. As a UCAS, it's unmistaken that there's nothing else flying like it," Boeing's spokesman said.
Bell Helicopter kindly emailed me this image of the poster hanging in their Quad-A exhibit booth that I filmed and described earlier this week. As discussed earlier, the Hybrid Tandem Rotor (HTR) features an all-new semi-tiltwing capable of 225kt forward speed, according to Bell. The concept is proposed as a replacement for the Sikorsky UH-60 and Boeing AH-64.
[UPDATE: I didn't get into journalism for the math. Updated chart corrects combined fighter purchases from 51 to 61.]
DOD plans to spend $23.5 billion to buy about 533 aircraft, excluding the 1,221 RQ-11 Raven micro-UAVs. For the first time I know, the budgets for C2/ISR and UAV platforms exceed the total airlift budget, thanks to the cancellation of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III.
I've seen two major budget surprises so far:
1. The MQ-12 Liberty program has shifted from the US Air Force to the US Army. This may be a trade-off for shifting Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) from the army to the USAF.
2. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates apparently made an $800 million blooper on 6 April. At that time, Gates said the FY10 budget request for F-35 would total $11.2 billion for 30 aircraft. However, this budget request includes only $10.4 billion, and the aircraft number remains stable at 30. There appears to be no material changes in the budget from 6 April to today.
Here's Jim Kagdis, Sikorsky business development manager, explaining the X2 light tactical helicopter's aerodynamic and technical details in the exhibit hall at the Quad-A convention on 6 May. The X2 aircraft on the exhibit floor is not the real thing. It's just a mock-up. But Jim's presentation reveals a lot of new and interesting data about how high-speed helicopter works.
The video below shows LTG James Thurman, the army's deputy chief of staff, speaking at the Quad-A (army aviation) convention in Nashville, Tennessee, this morning. During his speech, Thurman broke the news that the army is launching the first sweeping review of army aviation needs since a study six years ago led to the cancellation of the RAH-66 Comanche programme.
The mysterious sign in Bell Helicopter's exhibit space today at the Army Aviation Associaton of America's (Quad-A) convention simply reads: "It's not a tiltrotor ... what is it?"
It is Bell's candidate for replacing both the AH-64 and UH-60 with an all-new configuration called the Hybrid Tandem Rotor, Robert Kenney, Bell's executive VP for government programs, told me in an interview a few minutes after I filmed this clip.
The HTR "splits the difference between a helicopter and a tiltrotor," said Kenney.
While the BellBoeing V-22 can tilt its tandem rotor 95 degrees, the HTR's wing tilts by 25 degrees and gains 5 degrees more by adjusting the cyclic controls.
That means the HTR could achieve a forward speed of 225kts, Kenney said. A V-22 cruises at more than 300kts, while the fastest helicopters are limited to about 170kts.
If this particular configuration has ever been attempted before, Bell's engineers are not aware of it.
"When I first saw it I tried to figure out why it was a bad idea," said Kenney. "And I peppered the poor designers with questions and they answered them all. And then my question was 'why hasn't anyone tried this before?' Now that you see it it's kind of a no-brainer."
But don't expect to see a prototype flying any time soon. Kenney said Bell has no plans to launch a prototype demonstrator. The HTR will remain a design concept only unless the US Army launches a competition to replace the AH-64 and UH-60, he said.
That notional program, known as the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) requirement, exists, but has so far not been funded to enter a long-term development phase. According to Kenney, the army is more likely to continue improving its existing aircraft fleets, rather than develop an all-new aircraft.
By exhibiting the HTR at the Quad-A convention, Bell simply hopes the concept sparks the army's interest.
"This is kind of it's coming out party," said Kenney, "so we'll see what the interest levels are."
First, it was Northrop Grumman on KC-X. Then it was Sikorsky on light utility helicopter. Now, it's Lockheed Martin for the armed scout helicopter. There's no question about it: EADS North America is making quite a few friends on US soil.
North America (NA) today announced signing Lockheed Martin as the
weapons systems integrator for a newly-revealed Armed Scout 645
helicopter, a new contender for a major US Army contract.
Armed Scout 645 would integrate a weapons and targeting system on the
Eurocopter EC145 airframe already sold to the army as the UH-72 Lakota
light utility helicopter (LUH).
army's two-decade-old search to replace the Bell Helicopter OH-58D
Kiowa Warrior was re-opened last year. The army terminated a contract
with Bell to supply 522 ARH-72 Arapahos after development costs tripled.
Sikorsky today has unveiled this mock-up for a light tactical helicopter (LTH) based on the X2, a developmental coaxial rotor aircraft capable of 250kts.
The unveiling comes at the Army Aviation Association of America convention in Nashville.
The X2 LTH is likely Sikorsky's prime candidate for the Army's armed scout helicopter contract. The at least 18-month delay for the ASH program announced last week should help Sikorsky's chances. The company needs the time to continue testing the X2 prototype, which first flew late last year.
Raytheon told me yesterday the company will continue to develop its version of the KillerBee unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) whose design was acquired and renamed Bat by Northrop Grumman on Monday, which occurred two years after Northrop severed its relationship with KillerBee-maker Swift Engineering, which then partnered with Raytheon to offer the KillerBee for the small tactical UAS (STUAS)/Tier II contract, for which Northrop has now licensed Raytheon to continue its bid based on the KillerBee, and for which Northrop will not compete with the Bat (aka KillerBee), while both companies independently develop larger and smaller versions of the same KillerBee/Bat for other potential customers.