AIRPLANES

AIR TRANSPORT

FDR Found

Indonesian authorities have recovered the flight data recorder (FDR) of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jet that crashed there on May 9. The cockpit voice recorder has already been recovered and analyzed, with officials saying there are no indications of a technical fault. The FDR was recovered May 30 around 1 km (0.6 mi.) from the main crash zone in mountainous terrain. Sukhoi says the FDR, now with the Indonesian Investigation Commission of the National Committee for Transport Safety, appears undamaged.

AF447 Final Report

The French air accident investigation office, BEA, will issue its final report into the crash of Air France Flight 447 on July 5. The report, to be issued at BEA headquarters outside Paris, comes three years after the Airbus A330 crashed on June 1,2009, on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. All 228 onboard died. The final report was delayed in large part by the time it took to recover cockpit voice and flight data recorders after a multi-phase search of the large, deep area in the Atlantic Ocean where the aircraft was lost. The A330 crashed after a prolonged stall, from which flight crew failed to recover. One of the main areas of interest will be the report’s findings on why the pilots failed to recognize the stall or take appropriate recovery steps.

MAS Transit

Malaysia Airlines has become the eighth Airbus A380 operator, with delivery of the first of six of the aircraft the carrier has ordered. MAS will commence operations between Kuala Lumpur and London Heathrow on July 2. Malaysia will operate Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered A380s in a 494-seat configuration. Initial operations will be limited to three times per week, growing to daily service in August when the second A380 is delivered. Thai Airways International is due to become the ninth A380 operator later this year.

20th 747-8F Delivery

With a freighter delivery to Atlas Air on behalf of Swiss freight operator Panalpina, Boeing has delivered its 20th 747-8. To date, Boeing has handed over 16 freighters, three VIP versions and the first version to a passenger airline, Lufthansa. Panalpina will operate another of Atlas Air’s nine 747-8s.

Airphil Express A320s

Airphil Express, which carried 122% more passengers in 2011 compared to 2010, recently took delivery of three new Airbus A320s from GE Capital Aviation Services. Airphil Express, based in Manila, Philippines, hopes to double its passenger traffic to 8 million this year.

DEFENSE

Polar Hawk Pitched

Northrop Grumman has submitted an unsolicited proposal to Canada for three modified Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to provide surveillance of its Arctic territories as the region opens up as polar ice recedes. The Polar Hawk proposal presented to the Ottawa government responds to a long-standing need in Canada for surveillance of the Northwest Passage sea route, says Dane Marolt, Polar Hawk business development director. Northrop Grumman has teamed with Canadian military-aircraft support provider L-3 MAS. «We are proposing a full turn-key solution, with Northrop Grumman providing three air vehicles and ground stations and L-3 MAS doing everything else,» Marolt says. The Polar Hawk would be a Block 301 Global Hawk with «minor mods,» he says, including an Iridium satellite-communications link to provide command and control north of 70 deg, the limit of Ku-band satellite coverage. The high-altitude, long-endurance UAV would carry the same electro-optical/ infrared and synthetic aperture radar/ moving-target indicator sensors as the Block 301, but with the addition of maritime radar modes and an automated information system to identify and track transponders on ships.

Saab Surveillance

With an eye to what it sees as a growing market for maritime surveillance aircraft, Saab has rolled out its 340 MSA (maritime security aircraft) which it plans to showcase at the Farnborough air show in July. The aircraft would feature one operator workstation, although up to four could be accommodated. Maximum endurance would be around 6.5 hr, although Saab sees an option for auxiliary fuel tanks to boost that to more than 8 hr. Patrol speed would be 140 kt with a maximum cruise speed of 265 kt and a 3-hr., 45-min. on-station time at a range of 200 nm. The Saab 340 MSA will feature a Telephonies 1700B synthetic aperture radar and a electro-optical/infrared payload toward the rear of the fuselage.

LEMV Still Afloat

The U.S. Army’s Northrop Grumman Long-Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) hybrid airship could fly in June. Without giving a date for the flight, originally expected in mid-2011, Army Space & Missile Defense Command (SMDC) says «the team is assembling the airship, and integrating motors and electronics onto and into the vehicle. The first flight will occur when the airship has completed these integration activities.» Northrop Grumman, teamed with U.K. airship specialist Hybrid Air Vehicles, was selected to build the 304 ft.-long LEMV in June 2010, at which time operational deployment to Afghanistan was planned 18 months after contract award. The contract is potentially worth up to $517 million, including the initial vehicle and options for two more, designed to operate unmanned at 20,000 ft. for up to 21 days carrying multiple payloads.

Extended Maintenance

The U.K. government has awarded an industrial team of Marshall Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and Lockheed Martin a £350 million ($539 million) contract to support C-130K and C-130 J airlifters until 2015. The defense ministry says the so-called Hercules Integrated Operational Support (HIOS) contract saves £170 million by replacing several smaller contracts in a single package. The goal is also to provide better support for operations in Afghanistan while forces start redeploying to the U.K.

SPACE

Virgin Galactic Green Light

Virgin Galactic will attempt the first rocket-powered atmospheric flight tests of the SpaceShipTwo «toward the end of the year» now that the FAA has granted an experimental launch permit to vehicle developer Scaled Composites. The permit covers powered flight tests of the SS2 with an airborne launch from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft. Tests will take place from Scaled’s Mojave, Calif, facility. Virgin Galactic says that with 80 test flights completed, WhiteKnightTwo is substantially through its test plan, while the more recently constructed SpaceShipTwo has completed 16 free flights, including three that tested the vehicle’s «feathering» reentry system. Additionally, 10 test firings of the full-scale SpaceShipTwo rocket motor, including full-duration burns, have been completed.

Grail Probes Shut Down

Controllers are giving the twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (Grail) lunar orbiters a rest for most of the summer before beginning an extended mission that will send them skimming only 5 mi. above some of the Moon’s highest surface features. Dubbed Ebb and Flow, the two spacecraft mapped the Moon’s gravity in unprecedented detail since March 8, covering the surface from polar orbit three times before being switched off at an altitude of 37 mi. Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, principal investigator on the mission, says scientists hope to gain new insights into the structure of the Moon as reflected in variations in its density. Beginning Aug. 30, the Lunar Gravity Ranging Systems on the two spacecraft will be turned back on for a higher-resolution mapping mission that will continue until Dec. 3 from 14 mi.

Ultra Acquisition

Ultra Electronics has resumed its process of making niche acquisitions with the purchase of satellite communications terminal provider Giga Communications. The price of the deal, £12.4 million ($15.4 million), could rise by another £24.6 million depending on earnings delivered in the next two years. Ultra expects the deal to add to its bottom-line already this year. The acquisition expands both Ultra’s defense and commercial market reach. Ultra is drawing on existing financial resources to fund the transaction. Privately owned and England-based Giga also has businesses in Australia and the U.S. that are part of the transaction. The U.S. business is involved in the Wideband Global Satellite and Defense Satellite Communications System constellations.

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