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Lockheed Martin enjoying European sales high

Lockheed Martin is eyeing increased opportunities to deliver a broad range of defence products to European customers, with the F-35 Lightning II holding particular appeal as the company continues to drive down the cost of its fifth-generation stealth fighter.

Already counting NATO nations Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK as F-35 operators, while first examples for ostracised partner Turkey have also been handed over to support training activities in the USA, Lockheed is viewing multiple further opportunities in the region.

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Poland earlier this year announced its intention to buy 32 conventional take-off and landing F-35As via an accelerated Harpia procurement. The aircraft will replace its aged RAC MiG-29 fighters and Sukhoi Su-22 ground-attack aircraft, and its requirement could eventually total 48 airframes.

Lockheed Martin International executive vice-president Rick Edwards says the company intends to have a letter of acceptance process completed with the nation by 1 September, to coincide with a planned visit to Warsaw by US President Donald Trump.

An existing operator of Lockheed F-16C/Ds, Poland could seek to take delivery of its stealth fighters from as soon as 2022, although Edwards notes that with pilot and maintainer training and infrastructure work also required, “it’s a lot more than just getting them the aircraft”.

Other potential future European customers for the F-35 identified by the US Department of Defense’s F-35 programme director Vice Admiral Mathias Winter earlier this year include Greece, Romania and Spain. The type – which was late last year picked as Belgium’s future combat asset ­via a 34-aircraft deal – is also involved in a competition in Switzerland, facing the rival Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon.

“Four years ago, we had very little work in Europe in our [long-range] plan,” Edwards told FlightGlobal at the Paris air show last month. “Now, Europe’s our fastest-growing market, and countries that we didn’t think we’d be doing much work in – Poland, ­Slovakia, Bulgaria – are all key markets where there’s a lot going on.”

THREAT RESPONSE

Calls by NATO for its member states to increase their defence spending to counter an unpredictable Russia are having an effect, according to the Lockheed official.

“The neighbourhood is changing, there are threats there, and central and eastern Europe are taking the 2% [of GDP spending] mandate seriously,” he says. “Everybody is growing, but they are really growing at a very high rate.”

According to an estimate published by NATO on 25 June, Poland’s defence spending is expected to hit 2.01% of GDP in 2019, while Romania’s investment is projected at 2.04%. By contrast, of the 12 founding members of the 70-year-old Alliance, just two – the UK and the USA – will meet this spending target.

In a highly significant move affecting its flagship fighter, Lockheed and the US F-35 Joint Program Office recently reached a so-called “handshake agreement” for a three-year production run of 478 aircraft. Covering low-rate initial production lots 12-14, the arrangement could be valued at $34 billion, and will enable the airframer to achieve a key target of producing an A-model example at a unit cost of $80 million.

Pointing to the price of rival combat aircraft, Edwards notes: “I’ll contend that $80 million is a great deal for a fifth-generation capability that is really unsurpassed. Bringing that price down where it’s at parity or better than a fourth-generation [fighter] just makes the plane even more attractive to potential customers.”

For current and future users, additional initiatives being pursued in a bid to lower the F-35’s operating costs could include updates to its Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, Lockheed says.

“Anywhere there is a competition that involves the F-35 and you get pilots into the plane and they see the capability, the F-35 does exceedingly well,” Edwards says. Pointing to its success in Belgium and the pending deal with Poland, he adds: “When they get the classified briefings of what an F-35 does to their force, we more than likely will win. That’s a good place to be.”

Some short-term disruption looks likely, however, due to an ongoing dispute between Washington DC and Ankara over the latter’s purchase of Almaz-Antey S-400 long-range air-defence equipment from Russia. But while the US government has halted deliveries of the F-35 to Turkey, Edwards notes: “We still have numerous Turkish subcontractors producing and delivering parts.”

No such supply-chain threat exists when it comes to the UK’s role in supporting the F-35 programme, however. In late May, Lockheed’s industry partner, BAE Systems, delivered its 500th aft fuselage shipset for the three-variant type from its Samlesbury production facility in Lancashire. It also is responsible for the production of horizontal and vertical tails and electronic warfare equipment at sites in the UK, the USA and Australia.

“Across its global enterprise, BAE Systems delivers up to 15% of every F-35 built and has a vital role in the ongoing development and sustainment of the aircraft for customers across the globe,” the company notes.

Meanwhile, the UK’s short take-off and vertical landing F-35B-equipped Lightning force marked a key milestone on 16 June, when a pair of aircraft from the Royal Air Force’s 617 Sqn flew their first operational sorties from its Akrotiri base in Cyprus.

“The two aircraft conducted a patrol over Syria,” the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed, with the new assets operating alongside Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4s. Each F-35 was armed with Raytheon UK Paveway IV precision-guided bombs and MBDA ASRAAM short-range air-to-air missiles.

SUCCESSFUL TRIAL

According to the MoD, the type had demonstrated “exceptional performance” during exercise Lightning Dawn – an activity mounted at Akrotiri from late May with six of the aircraft. By 25 June, a further 12 operational sorties had been flown.

The UK has so far taken delivery of 17 ­F-35Bs, against a stated requirement for an eventual 138 Lightning aircraft.

Meanwhile, Lockheed has enjoyed recent success in Europe with its previous-model combat aircraft, with Slovakia ­ordering 14 F-16 Block 70s and Bulgaria planning to buy eight. Edwards says that for some NATO nations, acquiring the fourth-generation type could be a “stepping-stone” to in the future fielding F-35s.

European interest in the C-130J tactical transport is also on the up, according to ­Edwards. “Both the French and the German customers are very happy with the capability that we’ve given them – we were able to ­respond to their requirements quickly,” he notes. The French air force has received two of four on-order examples, while Berlin plans to acquire up to six, including a trio of ­KC-130J tankers.

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“If Germany and France decide that they need more to fill their capabilities, then we’ll be more than happy to compete and support them,” he adds.

Turning to the business opportunities expected at the Royal International Air Tattoo, Edwards says he looks forward to attending each year, because of how different it is from the multitude of other events on the gruelling air show circuit.

“It’s not a trade show – the highlight of the day is lunch and watching the flying. It’s a much more relaxed atmosphere, and a chance to meet air force chiefs on an informal basis,” Edwards says.

“You can spend quality time with customers without it being the ‘speed-dating’ thing you see at an air show,” he adds.


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Safety gains must not be undone by technology


Diligent application of hard-earned experience has made safety a hallmark of modern aviation; let’s not lose our grip on the basics of sound technique.

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Sweden joins formation with UK on Tempest programme

Sweden has become the first nation to join forces with the UK on its Tempest future combat air system (FCAS) project, with the pair having signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on the initiative.

“Discussions between industries and governments had been ongoing since July 2018,” the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) says. “A joint government feasibility report was completed in April 2019, informed by a joint report from UK and Swedish Industry.”

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Team Tempest

Approved in May, the collaboration was formalised during an 18 July signing event involving UK defence secretary Penny Mordaunt and Swedish defence minister Peter Hultqvist. The pact “commits both governments to work on a joint combat air development and acquisition programme, including the development of new concepts to meet both nations’ future requirements”, the MoD says.

Speaking at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) on 19 July, UK minister of defence procurement Stuart Andrew said the agreement represents a “shared, ambitious vision for future combat air systems, lays firm foundations for collaboration, and invites others to participate in our discussions. It strengthens our collective defence,” he adds.

“We are now two nations in Tempest, and I am confident that there will be more,” says Royal Air Force (RAF) chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier.

Gripen manufacturer Saab will not join the Team Tempest industry grouping, but work in cooperation with BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK and Rolls-Royce, plus the RAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office, “to scope out joint development and acquisition programmes for both nations”, Andrew says.

The Swedish company says it “will contribute with its experience of advanced technology development, system integration of complete combat air systems and related areas including sensors, missile systems and support”.

A one-year study phase will conclude in “Autumn 2020”, Hultqvist says, prior to expected further approvals being sought to advance the cooperation.

Early work will include “development of a joint acquisition roadmap, identifying technologies to spiral from Gripen and [Eurofighter] Typhoon onto an FCAS, and identifying early opportunities to insert advanced technologies onto Gripen and Typhoon”, the MoD says. Cost modelling work will also be conducted.

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Craig Hoyle/FlightGlobal

“For the UK, the next decision to be made is in December 2020, following submission of the outline business case,” the MoD says.

“To develop cutting-edge technology is time- and resource-consuming: it poses great challenges to any nation aspiring to develop an operational advantage,” Hultqvist said at RIAT. “Both the United Kingdom and Sweden intend to remain at the forefront of combat air, developing future capabilities to meet our national security objectives.”

“The FCAS feasibility studies will strongly benefit the coming and current versions of the Gripen – and of course, all of our Gripen partners,” says Swedish air force chief of staff General Mats Helgusson.

Leonardo UK managing director Norman Bone tells FlightGlobal that he hopes Italy will be the next nation to join the Tempest activity. “We see this as absolutely the right thing to do,” he says.

Meanwhile, Bone reveals that Leonardo has selected 2Excel Aviation to perform flight testing in support of its part of the Tempest activity. The company will operate an adapted Boeing 757 as part of the process.


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Wolverine hopes for US Air Force certification boost

Textron Aviation Defense believes a forthcoming US Air Force (USAF) certification campaign for its Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine light-attack aircraft will open the door to future export orders.

While the single-engined turboprop has been tested extensively by the service, it has yet to match the sales success of the rival Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, which has been selected by both Afghanistan and Lebanon.

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A request for proposals is expected to be released in the coming days by the USAF, which will acquire three examples of the AT-6. These will be used for certification testing and evaluations of its light-attack performance.

“That certification opens us up to international sales,” says Brett Pierson, vice-president of light attack aircraft at Textron Aviation Defense. He notes that it will also enable orders to be placed via the US government’s Foreign Military Sales mechanism.

Assuming the three-unit purchase proceeds as planned, the aircraft could be delivered around 18 months after they are ordered. However, the certification timeline depends on the USAF.

Pierson says that several nations are already interested in the Wolverine. “We are not on contract with any [customers], but several have expressed that they would like to get them right after the USA.”

A standard load-out for the AT-6 on its six hardpoints includes two 226kg (500lb) guided bombs such as the Raytheon Paveway II, a pair of .50cal machine guns and two rocket pods. Firing tests of the Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missile have also previously been carried out, notes Pierson.

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Textron Aviation Defense

USAF representatives have already conducted two rounds of evaluation with the AT-6 and A-29, in 2017 and 2018, which were anticipated to lead to a contest for a 300-unit order. However, earlier this year the US Department of Defense elected not to proceed with the procurement.

The USAF will also acquire a trio of A-29s for the latest round of testing.

Pierson is also responsible for the Textron Scorpion – a jet-powered light-attack and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform developed speculatively by the airframer.

First flown in 2013, Textron has since built two further Scorpion prototypes, but has yet to secure a customer and has largely wound-down development work.

However, it continues to fly the aircraft on behalf of industry and government customers looking to test sensors and other systems without the expense of full integration on production aircraft.

“In the last two months we have been flying like crazy,” says Pierson. “In early July we flew two Scorpions every day for one week.”


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Flight-control refinement to fix A321neo pitch-up issue

Airbus is developing a fix to an A321neo pitch-up issue, featuring a flight-control system update, which it expects will become available in the third quarter of 2020.

The anomaly is the subject of a European Union Aviation Safety Agency directive requiring operators to introduce temporary revisions to the flight manual.

EASA issued the directive following analysis of behaviour by the A321neo’s elevator and aileron computer.

FlightGlobal has learned that issue – which can result in excessive pitch-up – only affects the A321neo in particular remote conditions when combined with specific commanded manoeuvres.

Four conditions are required. These comprise a low approach altitude, below 100ft, in a specific landing condition, with the aircraft characterised by a particularly aft centre-of-gravity, and the crew engaged in performing a dynamic manoeuvre – such as a go-around.

Under these conditions the aircraft could enter a pitch-up situation which EASA has described as “excessive”.

FlightGlobal understands the crew would be able to react to the pitch-up to bring the aircraft immediately under safe control, and that there would be no automatic take-over of manual crew input by automatic aircraft systems.

Airbus is offering customers a mitigating strategy involving operational dispatch limitation, which focuses on the area of the flight envelope affected by unusually aft centre-of-gravity balance configurations. No modification is necessary to operational and training procedures.

The airframer insists the situation is “nothing to do” with the fuselage length or the location of the re-engined aircraft’s powerplants.

Airbus adds that it has supported EASA’s decision to issue the directive and points out that there has been no notification of an issue from in-service aircraft. Development tests, it adds, enabled the airframer to identity a “pro-active improvement”.

“Customers have been informed and we are working with them,” the airframer says, adding that a final fix, which would remove the centre-of-gravity limitation, is scheduled for the third quarter next year.

Airbus stresses that the A321neo issue has “clear dissimilarities” to scenarios under discussion regarding non-Airbus aircraft, although it does not specifically mention the Boeing 737 Max – grounded in March following concerns over pitch behaviour.


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US government approves American-Qantas JV

The US Department of Transportation has approved the proposed joint venture between American Airlines and Qantas, clearing the final barrier to the carriers’ plans to coordinate transpacific flights.

“We have concluded that, overall, the alliance and [joint business agreement] will be procompetitive and are likely to generate substantial benefits for the traveling public,” says the DOT in a 19 July order.

The order both approves the tie up and grants the joint business immunity from anti-trust laws.

”AA and Qantas do not need any more approvals before implementing the JV,” American tells FlightGlobal.

American does not say when the partnership will take effect, but the DOT order requires the carriers implement the deal within six months.

The deal calls for the carriers to coordinate pricing, sales, planning and other business functions on flights between North America and both Australia and New Zealand.

American and Qantas have positioned the venture as enabling them to more-effectively compete in a market largely controlled by two existing airline joint ventures: Delta Air Lines’ deal with Virgin Australia and United Airlines’ agreement with Air New Zealand.

“American and Qantas now have the opportunity to jointly offer more products that will better serve customers flying between the United States and Australia and New Zealand,” American says in a media release. “This has been a longstanding business objective of the partnership.”

“We now have the opportunity to launch new routes and provide enhanced service with better schedules, additional frequent flyer benefits and continued investments in the overall customer experience,” American chief executive Doug Parker says in the release.

Over “the next few years” the airlines have said they intend to add new flights between North America and Australasia.

The DOT order requires American and Qantas to, within seven years, perform “self assessment” of their partnership and of market effects. The assessment must address items such as capacity, technology investment and travel demand, according to the DOT’s order.

American and Qantas first submitted their proposal in 2015 but withdrew that request after the DOT denied the deal based on competitive factors.

The carriers refiled their application in February 2018, saying they would do more to increase capacity, reduce travel times and improve competition, DOT documents show.

The DOT tentatively approved that application on 31 May.


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​Korean firms order for 20 787s

Korean Air has firmed an order for 20 Boeing 787s, finalising a letter of intent the carrier signed last month at the Paris air show.

The order includes 10 787-9s and 10 787-10s and has a total list price value of $6.3 billion.

Boeing has not said when it expects to deliver the aircraft to the Seoul-based airline.

In Paris, Korean also signed an agreement to lease 10 787-10s from Air Lease. It already operates 10 787-9s.

Its widebody fleet also includes 23 747s, 56 777s, 10 Airbus A380s and 29 A330s, according to Cirium’s Fleets Analyzer.

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Boeing


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US Air Force flies HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter for first time

A pilot with the US Air Force’s (USAF) 413th flight test squadron conducted the service’s first flight of a Sikorsky HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter on 11 July at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The air force squadron’s personnel are embedded with Sikorsky to help with testing of the helicopter. The manufacturer’s test pilots have been flying the aircraft since May.

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Sikorsky HH-60W first USAF flight

USAF

The purpose of the USAF test flight was to collect level flight performance data required to move the programme into the production and deployment phase of the acquisition process, says the USAF.

“Performance testing requires extremely precise aircraft control, and our test pilot maintained tolerances of plus or minus one knot of airspeed, 20ft of altitude and less than 100ft/min (.51m/s) vertical speed, flying by hand,” says Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Dirkes of the 413th.

There are six aircraft dedicated to the developmental test programme.

The USAF wants HH-60Ws produced and deployed as soon as possible because its 96 HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters have exceeded their expected service lives of 6,000h of flight, according to a US Government Accountability Office report released in August 2018. At that time, those helicopters had logged an average of 7,100h of flight.

However, the programme has suffered delays which set back the HH-60W’s first flight by about eight months. One issue was the HH-60W’s fuel cell, which has several design and manufacturing deficiencies, including exceeding the weight allowance and not meeting military standards for normal temperature, cold temperature and self-sealing performance, according to a Director of Operational Test and Evaluation report released in January 2019.

The USAF programme of record calls for 113 aircraft to replace its aging HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters. The 413th’s HH-60W operations are scheduled to begin at Eglin AFB in Florida this fall.


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All the best images from RIAT 2019

The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) is taking place at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire from 19-21 July.

One of the annual event’s key themes this year will be to commemorate NATO’s 70th anniversary, with special multinational flypasts to be conducted on each of its first two days.

With rain forecast on its opening day, we took the chance to capture images of some of RIAT’s broad range of attractions on 18 July, as aircraft arrivals gathered pace. All images by Craig Hoyle/FlightGlobal

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Ukrainian air force Su-27 lands at RIAT

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Heavy Airlift Wing C-17, visiting from Papa air base, Hungary

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Spanish navy AV-8B Harriers sport special tail markings

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UK Typhoon and Swedish Gripen are appearing side by side

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Pakistan’s air force has brought colourful C-130B to the show

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Danish colours adorn this striking F-16

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Embraer is displaying its A-29 Super Tucano turboprop

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US Navy P-8A Poseidon

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Lithuania has deployed C-27J Spartan airlifter to UK event

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PC-21 and Avro RJ70 “flying classroom”; used by Empire Test Pilots’ School

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Norwegian F-16 received special livery for 75th anniversary of D-Day landings

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Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft


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Air Niugini 737 evacuation slowed by baggage retrieval

Investigators have determined that evacuation of the Air Niugini Boeing 737-800 which undershot into the sea at Chuuk was slowed by occupants trying to retrieve baggage.

The aircraft was lightly loaded, with just 35 passengers and 12 crew members on board, when it came down short of the runway on 28 September last year.

Papua New Guinea’s Accident Investigation Commission says that it “noted with concern” that there were “many instances of non-compliance” with evacuation directives prohibiting baggage from being taken from the aircraft during evacuation.

“A couple of passengers stated in their response to [the commission’s] written questionnaire that they were annoyed that a cabin crew member at the overwing exit forced them to leave cabin baggage in the aircraft,” it says.

Despite these instructions, the inquiry adds, several passengers still emerged from the wrecked aircraft with their bags.

Images reviewed by the commission found evidence that a loadmaster on board had his hands full with a backpack, clipboard and shoes when he left.

The commission has detailed two particular instances where passengers’ baggage removal “slowed” the evacuation.

One passenger stopped inside the aircraft and leaned out a right-hand overwing exit to pass a carry-on bag to a US Navy diver standing on the wing. The diver first threw the bag into an inflatable boat before assisting the passenger from the aircraft.

He removed his life-jacket and happened to be wearing a shirt beneath on which was printed ‘US Navy’, which “gave the appearance” that he was part of the actual US Navy rescue team, and he remained on the wing trying to assist divers to evacuate occupants.

The second occurrence involved a passenger who, having initially exited with cabin baggage, was then assisted by divers with re-entering the aircraft to retrieve shoes.

Cabin crew members pointed out to the investigators that some passengers appeared not to understand the word ‘evacuate’, but understood and followed the instruction to ‘get out’.

No passengers had been seated in the overwing exit rows, so none was briefed on opening these exits. A flight attendant responsible for the exits moved forward from her station at the rear of the cabin, but had to barge through with “mild force” and “shove passengers out of her way” owing to congestion in the aisle, says the inquiry.

“This flight did not have a full passenger load. There were numerous empty seats,” it adds. “In the event of a full-capacity flight, the cabin crew would have had significant difficulty reaching the overwing emergency exit.”


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