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GA-ASI Awarded Work on Novel Seaplane

The Pentagon has tapped General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. to conduct research and development on an experimental seaplane concept called Liberty Lifter.

The Poway company received a contract from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, on Nov. 25.

The value of the deal is $7.97 million, excluding unexercised options. Some $6.2 million in research and development funds from fiscal 2022 were obligated at the time of award.

Work will be done in Poway and is expected to last through May.

The contract was competitively procured.

The Liberty Lifter would be a seaplane able to carry large, heavy loads, including landing craft. It would be built with a low-cost design and construction philosophy.

The seaplane is seen as an alternative to transporting military equipment by ships, which are slow and require port infrastructure. It would also be an alternative to transporting equipment by conventional aircraft, which are fast but carry relatively small payloads and require airport infrastructure.

The Liberty Lifter would be designed to fly low or at medium altitudes. Engineers would also work on the challenge of making it able to fly in turbulent sea states.

According to DARPA, engineers have attempted to develop aircraft that can fly with “wing-in-ground effect,” which means the aircraft is flying no more than the length of its wingspan above the ground or water. An engineering publication, IEEE Spectrum, describes it this way: The aircraft’s wing deflects air downward and proximity to the ground generates a cushioning effect.

The Liberty Lifter would ideally fly at an altitude of less than 100 feet. By taking advantage of this cushioning effect, a successful design could operate more efficiently than a conventional aircraft.

The most well-known examples of aircraft employing wing-in-ground effect, DARPA said, are the Soviet “ekranoplans.” These vehicles were high speed and runway-independent, but were restricted to calm waters and had limited maneuverability.

(One Soviet effort was dubbed the “Caspian Sea Monster,” according to IEEE.)

Army Seeks Unmanned Aircraft Services

Separately, the U.S. Army recently awarded General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. an $8.5 million contract for MQ-9 Raptor launch and recovery services. The MQ-9 is GA-ASI’s standard, propeller-driven remotely piloted aircraft. Bids were solicited via the internet with one bid received. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 1. The U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama awarded the contract, announced on Dec. 9.

Keel Laid for Oiler Ship

General Dynamics NASSCO laid the keel of the fourth vessel in the U.S. Navy’s order of modern oiler ships during a ceremony at its Barrio Logan facility on Dec. 5.

The ship will be named after Robert F. Kennedy, who served as attorney general and U.S. senator from New York. As part of the ceremony, ship sponsor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend welded her initials onto a steel plate that will be part of the ship’s keel. Townsend is the daughter of Sen. Kennedy and the former lieutenant governor of Maryland.

The John Lewis class of fleet replenishment oilers is named after civil rights leaders. Each vessel will be 742 feet long, have a full load displacement of 49,850 tons, and have the capacity to carry 157,000 barrels of oil, a significant dry cargo capacity, aviation capability and a speed of up to 20 knots.

In a separate ceremony Oct. 21, longtime NASSCO employee Marsha Hackworth made the ceremonial first cut of steel for the fifth oiler ship, to be named after Lucy Stone.

Shares of parent company General Dynamics trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol GD.

PKL Extends Singapore Partnership

Poway-based PKL Services Inc. is supporting the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) for the next five years under a new contract awarded in the fall.

PKL has done similar work for the Singapore air force in the past. It started work on its new contract Oct. 1. The deal runs through September 2027.

The U.S. Air Force, acting on behalf of the Singapore military, awarded PKL the $105.8 million contract for flight operations and maintenance support training for F-15SG aircraft. Work will be performed at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, where PKL has 159 full-time employees.

The contract was a competitive acquisition and four offers were received, according to a Pentagon announcement. Foreign military sales funds in the amount of $16.4 million were obligated at time of award. The 366th Financial Acquisition Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base awarded the contract, announced on Sept. 20.

The F-15SG is a product of Boeing (NYSE: BA).


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