December 18, 2017

News Briefs – December 18, 2017

NASA drops replica Orion spacecraft to test parachutes

YUMA, Ariz.–NASA on Dec. 15 successfully dropped a replica Orion spacecraft from an Air Force transport aircraft to a southwestern Arizona desert site to test the craft’s ability to cope with a partial parachute failure.

The test used two of Orion’s three main parachutes to simulate the failure of the third and still sufficiently slowed the spacecraft for a landing.

Previous attempts were thwarted by a failure of the C-17 plane’s cargo doors to open at the drop altitude of 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) on Wednesday and by high winds Dec. 14.

Jim McMichael, a NASA systems engineer, said the 10-ton (10.16-metric ton) replica was “sitting perfectly upright” after bouncing once when it landed at the Yuma Proving Ground, an Army installation.

Actual Orion landings will involve ocean splashdowns.

The Orion spacecraft is expected to carry as many as four astronauts deeper into space than anyone has ever gone before.

In the Dec. 15 test, two small “drogue” chutes successfully deployed, stabilized the replica’s fall and then were cast off before deployment of the orange-and-white main chutes that then slowed the descent, McMichael said.

The landing spot was on hard desert soil, not a plowed and leveled area where NASA hoped the unit would land, McMichael said.

Still, “it went really well,” McMichael said. “We get a little bit of a bounce. It just lands and digs a little bit of a hole and lands and sits in the desert.”

McMichael said the replica is the same weight and width as the actual spacecraft but shorter so it would fit in the C-17.

A NASA team planned to pick up the parachutes and truck them and the replica to the Yuma airport used as the staging site for the parachute testing.
The test Dec. 15 was the fifth of a series of eight Orion parachute tests that began in 2016 and that will end in late 2018, he said. AP

Ceremony initiates new USS Little Rock littoral combat ship

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.–One of the U.S. Navy’s newest warships is named for Arkansas’ capital city.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that the USS Little Rock, also known as LCS-9, was commissioned on the waterfront in Buffalo, N.Y., Dec. 16. The ceremony took place beside the original USS Little Rock, now a 610-foot-long floating museum. It marked the first time a U.S. Navy ship was commissioned alongside the vessel for which it was named.

Put in service in 1945, the elder ship was a light cruiser before it was converted to a guided-missile cruiser. Decommissioned in 1976, it became part of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park the next year.

The new USS Little Rock is a littoral combat ship, a small, agile model meant for operations close to shore. AP

Mattis warns of unsafe Russian military flights over Syria

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is warning against dangerous flights by Russian fighter jets over what is considered a safe zone in Syria, questioning whether recent close calls were mistakes or deliberate.

Mattis told Pentagon reporters Dec. 15 that the U.S. and Russia are still using a phone line to coordinate flight movements over crowded Syrian skies as the U.S.-led coalition goes after remaining Islamic State group militants.

Two Russian Su-25 fighters flew through an unofficial line separating Russian and American air forces in eastern Syria on Wednesday coming dangerously close to U.S. aircraft.

U.S. Air Force F-22 fighter jets launched warning flares in response.

Mattis says he doesn’t expect perfection in flights but also doesn’t want dangerous maneuvers. He says it’s not clear if it was deliberate or just sloppy flying. AP

American army commander says U.S. committed to NATO, Europe

The outgoing U.S. Army Europe commander says America’s continued commitment to European security in the face of Russian aggression is in Washington’s interest.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said Dec. 15 in Wiesbaden, Germany, that the U.S. wants Russia to be “once again part of the international democratic community,” according to prepared remarks.

But, he says Russia “must abide by its agreements and international law and norms and respect the sovereignty of European nations.” He emphasized the importance of NATO’s Eastern European deterrence missions.

Hodges says America’s commitment to NATO “remains unshakable and as firm as it always has been,” and that “stability and security in Europe directly affect stability, security and economic prosperity in the United States.”

Hodges’ deputy, Maj. Gen. Timothy McGuire, becomes acting commander until a permanent replacement is confirmed. AP

UK defense chief says Russia poses risk to undersea cables

The head of Britain’s military says Russia could try to sever undersea communications cables, and protecting them is a defense priority for NATO.

Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach says cutting or disrupting the cables could have a “potentially catastrophic” economic effect.

Peach told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute that “along with our Atlantic allies, we have prioritized missions and tasks to protect the sea lines of communication.”

In the Dec. 14 speech, Peach said that Russia “in addition to new ships and submarines continues to perfect both unconventional capabilities and information warfare.” He said NATO is working “to match and understand Russian fleet modernization.”

Earlier this month the Policy Exchange think-tank highlighted how Russia had “easily” severed all digital communications to Crimea during its 2014 invasion of the Black Sea peninsula. AP

Delta orders 100 Airbus jets valued at over $12.7 billion

Delta Air Lines picked Europe’s Airbus over Boeing for a huge order of new jets.

Delta said Dec. 14 that it will order 100 Airbus A321neo jets with a sticker price of $12.7 billion and take an option to buy another 100 jets, a deal that Chicago-based Boeing had hoped to land.

Financial terms of the order were not disclosed so it isn’t known how much Delta will actually pay Airbus. Airlines typically get huge discounts off the sticker price of new planes.

Atlanta-based Delta announced the order just before beginning its annual meeting with investors.

CEO Ed Bastian told investors that travel demand remains strong both on international and U.S. routes. He said Delta expects fourth-quarter revenue for every seat flown one mile — a measure of ticket demand and average fares — to rise about 4 percent from a year ago, up from Delta’s previous forecast of 2 percent to 4 percent.

But costs for fuel and labor are rising, too. Bastian said Delta’s fourth-quarter operating margin will be around 11 percent, at the low end of the company’s previous prediction.

In morning trading, shares of Delta Air Lines Inc. rose $1.76, or 3.3 percent, to $55.39.

Delta’s selection of Airbus jets comes after Boeing challenged a smaller Delta order of planes from Canada’s Bombardier. Boeing charged that the sale price was artificially low and amounted to dumping. The U.S. Commerce Department sided with Boeing and proposed stiff duties on Bombardier jets.

The Airbus A321neo is a single-aisle, mid-range plane that competes with Boeing’s 737 Max. Delta said it will begin getting the 197-seat jets in early 2020 to replace smaller planes.

Airlines have been ordering bigger planes to carry more passengers and earn more revenue without adding flights. That is especially important at busy East Coast airports where it can be hard to squeeze in more flights.

Delta also announced that it will get a large amount of maintenance and repair work for Pratt & Whitney engines used on Airbus A321neo and Bombardier C Series jets flown by Delta and other airlines. Delta said the deal will create new jobs in its maintenance business. It did not disclose financial terms. AP

Airbus shakes up top management amid legal woes

Airbus said Dec. 15 that its CEO, Tom Enders, will step down in 2019, as the European airplane maker shakes up management amid multiple corruption investigations.

The company said Enders, who will have been at the helm of Airbus and defense firm EADS for 14 years, won’t seek another term when his current term expires.

Enders has been a key figure as Airbus has jockeyed with U.S. rival Boeing over the past decade to be the world’s top-selling plane maker.

The 59-year-old was quoted Dec. 15 as saying Airbus needs “fresh minds for the 2020s” and that he would use the remainder of his time to ensure a smooth transition and to strengthen the company’s ethics and compliance programs.

The governments of France and Germany, which have stakes in Airbus and used to have seats on its board, are paying close attention to the management changes and the legal probes.

“We obviously need to keep an eye on our strategic interests and (Airbus) governance, which must be exemplary,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters in Brussels Dec. 15.

Speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron insisted that their governments won’t “interfere politically to return to a role in the daily management of the company” — but said he wants the Airbus board to provide clarifications in the coming weeks about the executive shakeup.

Also leaving is the chief operating officer and president of the commercial aircraft division, Fabrice Bregier, who will step down next February.

He will be succeeded by Guillaume Faury, currently CEO of Airbus Helicopters. Enders described Faury as part of “the next generation of leaders,” which could suggest he is being groomed to eventually take over as CEO of the overall Airbus Group.

The announcement came weeks after Airbus announced it is replacing its combative, long-serving sales chief, John Leahy. He’s being replaced by an outside executive, from Rolls Royce.

The big challenge for incoming Airbus management will be legal investigations.

Authorities in Britain and France are investigating alleged fraud and bribery related to Airbus’ use of outside consultants in commercial plane sales. Airbus has warned that the investigations could lead to “significant penalties” and promised to stop working with middlemen.

Meanwhile, Austria is investigating suspected fraud in the government’s purchase of Airbus combat aircraft.

It’s a bumpy time for Airbus, which recently saw a major deal with Gulf carrier Emirates for A380 superjumbos fall apart at the last minute at the Dubai Air Show. The airline handed the contract to Boeing instead.

Shares were little changed Dec. 15, as management changes were expected.

Airbus had revenues of 67 billion euros ($79 billion) last year and employs 134,000 staff worldwide. AP

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Headlines – December 12, 2018

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