Saturday, July 13, 2013

New autopilot for NASA aircraft fleet will cost $9.5 million

NASA is moving forward with plans to have American Systems Corp. (ASC) finish development of an autopilot for the agency's T-38 and WB-57 aircraft. The estimated cost of the work is $9.5 million, according to contract documents released on Friday through the Federal Business Opportunities website.

In December, NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, announced its intentions to continue development of a autopilot system for their T-38 and WB-57 aircraft with ASC as the prime contractor.

“A synopsis [for the autopilot work] was posted on Dec. 7, 2012, which resulted in one inquiry from Chippewa Aerospace Inc.,” NASA said in contract documents this week. “After further communications with the government, this potential source acknowledged that they could not satisfy the procurement requirements and withdrew any further interest in serving as the prime contractor.”

NASA intends to integrate the new autopilot system into its 21 T-38 jets to comply with Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM) equipment requirements. RVSM compliance is a Federal Aviation Administration requirement to fly in certain airspace. Lack of RVSM compliance restricts the ability of the T-38 to fly in RVSM airspace and limits the full potential of T-38 fuel efficiency. “No operational T-38 autopilot system currently exists in any T-38 fleet, domestically or internationally,” NASA said.

T-38N Talon

The T-38 Talon is a two-seat, twin turbojet, swept-wing, supersonic aircraft originally designed for the United States Air Force (USAF) as a high performance trainer and is fully aerobatic with loop and roll flight capabilities. NASA uses a modified version of the USAF T-38A aircraft (designated the T-38N) primarily for astronaut proficiency training.

WB-57F Canberra

The WB-57F Canberra is a mid-wing, high altitude, long-range aircraft capable of operation for extended periods of time. Due to high altitude performance requirements, an autopilot is essential to ensure the WB-57F stays within certain limited windows of performance. The WB-57F fleet currently has operational autopilots installed, but due to obsolescence issues the autopilot systems have become unsustainable.

The agency will continue to monitor the market for companies that have developed technologies that can meet the requirements of the autopilot programs, but at that this time, they will continue development with ASC.

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