USAF orders production revival for upgraded Maverick missile

By Stephen Trimble

Raytheon is to restart production of a nearly 30-year-old air-to-ground missile system that is scheduled for replacement.

The company is to upgrade the guidance and control sections for its laser-guided Maverick system, and an improved missile, designated the AGM-65E2, should be delivered within the next 20 to 24 months under a new US Air Force contract. The AGM-65E comes with either a 68kg (150lb) shaped charge warhead for armoured or hardened targets or a 137kg blast/fragmentation warhead.

Although the air force allowed its inventory of laser-guided Mavericks to dwindle, the missile’s relatively low-yield effect and extreme accuracy has again made it popular as a close air support weapon, says Mark Larson, a Raytheon business development manager.

As demand increased, Raytheon first facilitated the transfer of US Navy AGM-65Es to the USAF fleet, Larson says. However, the USAF ultimately decided to restart production, replacing obsolete guidance and control components for about 450 Mavericks with upgraded parts.

But the new order should not reduce demand for the AGM-65E’s long-awaited replacement – the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM), Raytheon says. The two programmes are based on very different requirements, so “it’s really an apples to oranges comparison”, the company adds.

JAGM is now in competition between Raytheon and a Boeing/Lockheed Martin team. In addition to a semi-active laser seeker, the JAGM can also be guided by a global positioning/inertial navigation system antenna and a millimetre-wave radar, allowing it to strike moving targets in any weather.

The requirement for JAGM also increases the range of the weapon to 45km (24.3nm) after firing from a fixed-wing aircraft, compared with about 24.1km for the AGM-65, says Raytheon.


AirTran Boeing 717 engine emergency

By John Croft

An AirTran Boeing 717 will be back in service by tonight after an in-flight engine emergency on Sunday during flight from Baltimore to Atlanta.

Flight 428 with 117 passengers and five crew members had just departed the Baltimore-Washington International airport around 1500h on Sunday when the crew declared an emergency and shut down the aircraft’s right-side Rolls-Royce BR715 turbofan engine for unknown reasons.

Air traffic controllers cleared the aircraft back to Baltimore, where it landed safely at 1515.

AirTran says mechanics will remove the failed engine and send it to Rolls-Royce in Montreal for an overhaul. The aircraft is expected to be placed back into service Monday night with a replacement engine.

The airline says declaring of an emergency is standard operating procedure for engine problems.


Airbus sees A340 becoming more marginalised in future

By Mary Kirby

Airbus says the A340 is “not dead”, but it sees the four-engined widebody playing a more marginalised role in its portfolio as time goes by and take-up of the new A350 twinjet continues.

Production of the original A340-200/300 ended last year with the delivery of the 246th aircraft. Sales of the larger, Rolls-Royce Trent 500-powered A340-500/600 continue to struggle, with the six new orders taken last year offset by 10 cancellations. The firm order backlog stands at just 22 aircraft.

“The A340 is not dead,” said Airbus head of leasing and investor marketing Mark Pearman-Wright, responding to a question at the ISTAT air transport conference in Phoenix last month.

He acknowledged that the quad-jet “will become a little bit more marginalised as time goes on”, adding that Airbus had “taken the decision to replace the A340 with the A350”.

Jonathan Hordle/Rex Features
© Jonathan Hordle/Rex Features


Ares and Altair design contracts to be awarded

By Rob Coppinger

Design contracts for NASA‘s Ares V cargo launch vehicle (CaLV) and its Altair lunar lander payload are to be awarded in the next few days and weeks.

Both are key to NASA’s plan to go to the Moon from 2020, and at the Space Foundation’s National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs from 30 March-2 April, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Northrop Grumman told Flight International about how they could be engineered.

“There is no great advantage of dry composite structures on the core [stage],” says Lockheed Space System’s exploration systems vice-president Ronald Wetmore, referring to Ares V’s second stage. Composites are thought to save weight and improve performance and Wetmore was referring to a NASA/industry study that preceded the Ares V bids. The rocket’s super structure, without propellant tanks, is deemed to be dry. The tanks, because they hold fuel and oxidisers, are wet.

The study also investigated making the tanks composite, but as Boeing Exploration Launch Systems vice-president and Ares I upper stage production programme manager Jim Chilton says, that “could require more development time than we have”.

NASA
© NASA
NASA’s Ares V cargo launch vehicle (CaLV) ascends into space
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NASA is to place multi-million dollar design contracts with multiple companies in the next three months for its Ares V cargo launch vehicle and Altair lunar lander. The Ares V will launch the Altair for a return to the Moon in 2020.

NASA had told industry that the Ares V design support contracts awards announcement would be in the first week of April, but work would not start until July. NASA created five work packages for Ares V design support. The packages follow the different elements of the vehicle: its shroud, or fairing; the Earth departure stage; the avionics; and the core and first stages.

The first stage is two solid-rocket boosters. These work package awards are deemed phase one of a two-stage process and the second will be the awarding of the design, development, test and evaluation (DDT&E) contract to a single company in the first quarter of 2012. The DDT&E contract will see the rocket’s development through to its deployment.

Phase one is to have fixed-price contracts for each of the work packages. For the Earth departure stage and the core each contract is worth $20.5 million, the first-stage award is $13.7 million and for the avionics and the shroud, companies get $6.85 million each.

In June NASA’s Altair project office expects to place multiple awards for its conceptual design contract. According to a December 2008 pre-proposal conference presentation, multiple conceptual design contracts worth at least $42.2 million over four years are to be awarded.

This year and 2010 will see “base awards” of $1.6 million and $5.6 million respectively. This work will see companies collaborate with the Altair project office on the lander’s design. Then in 2011 and 2012 there are the two option awards. They are extensions of the original contract and option one is worth $15 million and two, $20 million. The Altair DDT&E contract is expected in 2013.

Wetmore thinks the core can be made out of aluminium lithium, which Lockheed uses for the Space Shuttle external tank, and be competitive with a composite core’s mass, while a largely composite Ares V Earth departure stage (EDS) would be beneficial because “you take it all the way to orbit”, he adds.

The core and EDS are two of five work packages industry is bidding for. The other three are the shroud, avionics and the first stage, which comprises two 5.5 segment solid-rocket boosters. Wetmore says NASA wants to have two awardees for each, for a total of 10 awards.

But the core and EDS engines are not included. They are being developed with P&WR, which says only requirements have been discussed for the core stage’s RS-68B engine. But the EDS J-2X engine is past its critical design review and it is to be used from 2015 for the Ares I crew launch vehicle.

For Ares V’s electronics, Lockheed, which is developing the avionics for the Ares I payload, the Orion crew exploration vehicle, is arguing for common systems.

Lockheed might win the argument if some new ideas for Altair bear fruit. NASA is looking at cannibalising Altair’s descent module for spare parts. Its avionics could be used for rovers and habitats. It is an option for NASA and the contractors that win its conceptual design contracts. Altair will take power and interact with the EDS and Orion during missions anyway.

While final decisions about cannibalising modules may stretch into the next decade, “by [June 2010] we will know pretty much what Altair will look like,” says Northrop Grumman aerospace systems business development director Bob Davis.

Northrop expects three design contracts to be awarded by NASA and if it wins it knows it will start with the agency’s latest concept, an 8.8m (28.8ft)-wide flatbed descent stage with a smaller ascent stage on top.

But nothing is ruled out and Davis knows that a side loading lander is possible, although its width means it has to be launched vertically on Ares V. Another radical design option is to have toroidal propellant tanks instead of cylindrical.

While it is early days for Altair and Ares V, in March NASA and a group of companies started a lunar systems risk reduction study, to examine Moon operations after the lander has landed. That should end in June and it will, Davis says, “influence Altair further down the road”.


UK investment in CSeries down slightly after nacelle bid fails

By Mary Kirby

(Clarifies that a P&W/Goodrich partnership is responsible for the CSeries nacelle system)

UK investment in the Bombardier CSeries development programme has declined slightly after the airframer’s Belfast plant failed to win a bid to produce the nacelle for the Pratt & Whitney (P&W) geared turbofan-powered airliner.

The CSeries’ advanced composite wings will be developed and produced by Bombardier in Belfast. But with the Northern Ireland facility unsuccessful in its nacelle bid, UK investment now stands at £142.7 million ($209.7 million), down £12.3 million from the previously announced investment of £155 million.

P&W is responsible for delivering the nacelle system as part of the total propulsion system for the CSeries. The company in 2008 partnered with Goodrich to provide the advanced, light-weight system for Bombardier as well as the Mitsubishi Regional Jet.

Despite the dip in UK investment in the CSeries, Bombardier says the $2.6 billion funding needed to develop the aircraft will still come in roughly equal shares from Bombardier, principal suppliers, and government repayable investments, which includes loans worth $350 million from Ottawa and $118 million from Quebec.

“In the big picture, [the drop in UK investment] didn’t really change the proposition of the one third, one third, one third [split between] government, suppliers and Bombardier,” says Bombardier Aerospace president and chief operating officer Guy Hachey.

Separate to this funding, Bombardier has already spent $252 million on the CSeries programme from its free cash flow, bringing its total announced investment to over $1 billion in the programme.

While acknowledging that Bombardier is offering the CSeries “in a very challenging environment”, the company remains confident it will secure additional orders this year, after Lufthansa and lessor LCI announced a combined 50 firm orders plus options.

As CSeries work ramps up, Bombardier will be able to re-allocate some employees to new positions to reduce the firm’s planned headcount reduction, which rose today by another 3,000 workers across North America, Mexico and Northern Ireland due to rapid deterioration in business aircraft demand.

The Belfast cuts, numbering 975, will largely focus on contractual positions, and come in addition to the 300 redundancies announced in February.

Hachey says Bombardier is going to see “how we can flow some of the people being displaced” from major aircraft programmes to the CSeries and other lines.

For example, demand for Bombardier’s Q400 has remained steady, as evidenced by some recent orders, and thus supports increased production.

Commenting on the news of cuts at Bombardier in Northern Ireland, Society of British Aerospace Companies chief executive Ian Godden said the current downturn in business jet demand, resulting in job losses, indicates “the need for continued government support for the successful world-class Bombardier facility in Northern Ireland and the hundreds of companies across the UK in its supply chain”.

He adds: “Bombardier is investing in a major new commercial aircraft programme, the CSeries which was launched at Farnborough last year. Two substantial orders were announced for CSeries earlier this month, and Bombardier in Belfast is developing the composite wings for the aircraft and will soon begin construction work on a new purpose-built factory, which will provide a further boost for Northern Ireland. Despite today’s announcement Bombardier’s presence in Northern Ireland will deliver vital economic benefits in the near future. To secure these long-term benefits the support of the Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly will be vital.”


BA’s search for biofuel candidates continues

By Aimée Turner

The prospect of aviation moving swiftly to a greener fuel alternative to help reduce its carbon footprint looks increasingly doubtful. The latest blow is British Airways‘ failure to find enough of a future fuel type to conduct initial testing.

BA last year teamed with Rolls-Royce to launch a scientific test programme using an RB211 engine from a BA Boeing 747-400 to investigate the viability of alternative fuels. Up to four fuels were to be selected through a joint tender process to undergo laboratory and rig testing by the end of March.

Speaking at the Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva, BA chief executive Willie Walsh told delegates that their search had to date been fruitless. “Our experience showed that we were slightly ahead of the production available and we were struggling to find the 60,000 litres [15,830USgal],” he said. But he added that later this year R-R is optimistic of securing a substantial volume to test in a true trial environment on one of its own rigs.

The key criteria for selection are suitability, sustainability and industrial capability with clear evidence of the potential for mass production and global distribution.

Simon Gregory/AirTeamImages.com
© Simon Gregory/AirTeamImages.com

Billy Glover, Boeing‘s director of environmental performance, suggested that it was the quantity specified that was problematic. “What they were asking for was a quantity of fuel at the ‘innovation’ level. It’s a no-man’s land between laboratory test quantities and those that have benefited from a production scale-up after experimentation.”

Jason Pyle, chief executive of Sapphire Energy, warned delegates that aviation was “not in the debate” compared to other industries and risks not being able to secure enough biofuel in the requisite quantities in the face of powerful, competing interests.

Sanjay Pingle, president of Terasol Energy, told the summit: “If the industry does not start to engage in finding new sources of the biofuel supply chain, it will still be buying alternatives on the same terms as it currently buys petroleum-based jet fuel.”

John Begin, deputy director of the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Air Transport Bureau, said: “If biofuel is to continue to be seen as an option it has to come to terms with aspects that need to be addressed in a policy-making dimension.”

He said a broadly held vision needed to be established and commitment demonstrated, with the amount of fuel required and when it is needed by defined. He added that the industrial scale required also needs outlining, public versus private rules of engagement laid down, and risk-sharing profile and mitigation strategies set up.