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Museum of Flight plans to land a Blue Angels jet

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The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels streak past Seattle’s Space Needle. (Photo by Susy Davidson)

One of the F/A-18 Hornet jets used by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels is due to be landing in Seattle’s Museum of Flight … to stay.

Word of the deal was circulating even as the Hornets and their pilots wowed crowds during last weekend’s aerobatic demonstration at Seattle’s Seafair festival. Today, museum officials confirmed that a loan was in the works.

“I am 90 percent sure it’s going to happen,” Erika Callahan, the museum’s vice president for marketing and communications, told GeekWire. “I’m just keeping it real.”

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5 geeky guidelines for Seafair weekend

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An F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet is ready for its close-up during Seafair. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

If you like powerful machines and loud noises, this is the weekend for you: Seattle’s annual Seafair festival comes to a climax with the splash of unlimited hydroplane races and the roar of jet-powered aerobatics by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.

What’s the best way to see the show? And what’s the inside story on those non-fighting fighter jets? We’ve put together a few guidelines for geeks, plus a video tour of a F/A-18 Hornet jet hosted by Lt. Ryan Chamberlain, one of the Blue Angels’ pilots.

Check out the full story and the video on GeekWire.

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Jeff Bezos joins Pentagon advisory board

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Jeff Bezos is the founder of Blue Origin as well as Amazon. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is joining the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, a 15-member panel that’s meant to help the Pentagon adopt some of the private-sector ideas that have fueled America’s tech industry.

The panel is chaired by a tech titan who’s arguably one of Bezos’ biggest competitors: Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. Other members include LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Instagram COO (and Facebook veteran) Marne Levine, Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Bezos’ appointment this week, and numbered him among “the most innovative minds in America.”

In addition to founding Amazon, Bezos owns The Washington Post and the Blue Origin space venture. During an April fireside chat at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Bezos told me that he was “very excited” about Blue Origin’s potential involvement in space missions for the Defense Department.

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SpaceX gets its first national security launch

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launches the Deep Space Climate Observatory for NOAA, NASA and the Air Force in February 2015. SpaceX has launched payloads for the Air Force previously, but now it’s been chosen for the launch of a national security payload. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX today won an $82.7 million contract to launch a GPS-3 navigational satellite into orbit for the U.S. Air Force, marking the first national security mission for the California-based company.

The award was virtually in the bag for SpaceX because United Launch Alliance, the only other company certified to launch national security payloads, dropped out of the competition last November.

At the time, ULA said it couldn’t submit a compliant bid because of federal restrictions on the use of Russian-made RD-180 engines. But last month, a ULA vice president said his company was actually seeking to avoid a “cost shootout” with SpaceX.

The vice president of engineering, Brett Tobey, resigned after his remarks went public.

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Blue Origin, ULA and Aerojet strike rocket deals

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Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine goes through staged combustion testing. (Credit: ULA)

Blue Origin, the rocket venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, is among the beneficiaries in a set of Air Force contracts aimed at developing U.S.-made replacements for the Russian-made engines that currently power many of America’s space missions.

One of the contracts announced today is going to United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin’s partner in the BE-4 rocket engine development effort. The Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center said the BE-4 project would receive an initial investment of $46.6 million. Another $800,000 would go toward development of the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, or ACES.

ULA plans to use Blue Origin’s methane-fueled BE-4 engine on its next-generation Vulcan rocket, which is designed to be partially reusable. The ACES propulsion system would eventually be used on the Vulcan’s upper stage.

Blue Origin has its headquarters in Kent, Wash., and much of the company’s rocket development work was done there. Engine testing already has started at Blue Origin’s West Texas operation. The two companies say development of the BE-4 is fully funded by Blue Origin, with investment by ULA.

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Next-gen B-21 bomber’s design unveiled

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The Air Force’s B-21 bomber has that characteristic stealthy look. (Credit: USAF)

Today the U.S. Air Force took the wraps off the design for its Long Range Strike Bomber, now known as the B-21, and said it’d be taking suggestions for a snappier name from its service members.

“This aircraft represents the future for our airmen, and (their) voice is important to this process,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said in a news release. The announcement was made at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla.

James said the person who suggests the winning name would help her announce it at this fall’s Air Force Association conference. Further information on the naming procedure will be made available via the Air Force’s website as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Last October, Northrop Grumman won the contract to develop the B-21, which could ultimately be worth $80 billion or more.

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Navy investigates mystery drone sighting

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Drones are raising issues as they become more widespread. (Credit: DJI)

The Navy has confirmed that it’s investigating the illegal flight of an unidentified drone over Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, the home base for Trident submarines that carry nuclear weapons.

In an email, Navy spokeswoman Silvia Klatman said the drone was sighted in prohibited airspace by a civilian employee on Feb. 8.

“Any operation over the base without prior permission and coordination with appropriate authorities is both illegal and hazardous,” she said. “It’s our intent to support the investigation and prosecution of this reported act, and any others that may occur, in coordination with civilian law enforcement.”

The Seattle Times and the Kitsap Sun quoted a nearby resident, Al Starcevich, as saying that he and his neighbors were interviewed by investigators last week, and that he was told there were repeated drone flights at night.

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GAO shoots down challenge to bomber deal

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A shrouded airplane takes center stage in a Northrop Grumman TV commercial. The company’s Long Range Strike Bomber is similarly shrouded in mystery. (Credit: Northrop Grumman)

The Government Accountability Office ruled that Northrop Grumman won the U.S. Air Force’s contract for the Long Range Strike Bomber fair and square, and turned back a protest of the decision by the Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin.

The next-generation stealth bomber is meant to replace the Air Force’s decades-old B-1 and B-52 bombers starting in the 2020s. The contract could bring as much as $80 billion to Northrop and its subcontractors.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin lost out in the competition, and in November the two companies filed a protest saying that the Defense Department’s selection process didn’t properly weigh all the risks and comparative advantages. After reviewing the record, the GAO denied the protest on Feb. 16, clearing the way for Northrop to resume work on the project.

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Final Boeing-built GPS satellite goes into orbit

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United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket rises from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying the GPS IIF-12 satellite into space. (Credit: United Launch Alliance)

The last GPS Block IIF satellite built by the Boeing Co. was sent into orbit for the U.S. Air Force today, filling out a set of a dozen.

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket carried the 3,500-pound GPS IIF-12 satellite into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at the start of today’s launch window, at 8:38 a.m. ET (5:38 a.m. PT). Hours later, the rocket’s Centaur upper stage put the satellite into a 12,700-mile-high orbit.

Today’s launch was the first one of the year for United Launch Alliance, which is a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture.

The 12 Block IIF satellites are part of the Air Force’s Global Positioning System constellation, which provides navigation data for users worldwide. Those users range from Air Force controllers calling in air strikes to drivers, sailors and hikers trying to figure out how to get where they want to go.

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Coast Guard copter hit by laser flash

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Laser strikes on pilots have risen dramatically. (Coast Guard photo by Stephen Lehmann)

The U.S. Coast Guard says it had to cut a helicopter training mission short on Monday night after the airborne crew was targeted by someone with a laser near Port Angeles, Wash.

The laser was directed at the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at around 6:30 p.m., forcing the crew to abort the flight and return to Air Station Port Angeles. “No injuries were reported, but all crew members are grounded until they are cleared by medical personnel, as laser strikes can cause permanent eye damage,” the Coast Guard said today in a statement.

The Coast Guard said it was working with local law-enforcement officials to investigate the incident.

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