Astronics’ (ATRO) CEO Peter Gundermann on Q2 2014 Results – Earnings Call …

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Our first question is from Tyler Hojo of Sidoti Company.

Tyler Hojo – Sidoti Company

So I guess just go right to the elephant in the room. Tests Systems, obviously was a very strong quarter here. But when we look at the bookings and the potential that you actually saw a little bit of pull-forward from 2015, can you help us at all in terms of how to think about the sustainability of that business as we start moving into 2015?

Peter Gundermann

It is the elephant in the room. That’s the elephant in a few rooms actually. We talked before about how we had a pull-forward from 2015 and the 2014. We are here to deliver product when customers want it. So we will do that. And our belief is that the prospects that exist in the market are strong enough to support this business in a meaningful way going forward. Are we going to annualize and grow from current levels? That’s really pretty hard to say at this point. It could well be, that the lumpiness that we have described before will come into play in between these big orders.

I mean, the way I think about this business and the way we play in it, is that it’s a little bit like a camel, I guess, where it’s made to go long distances without getting a drink. But when it gets a drink, it’s a big drink. So the effect of the increased emphasis on the Test Systems business for Astronics will be to make our results a little bit lumpier than our traditional Aerospace businesses.

And that means that we may have times of feasting and times of relative famine, but we think long-term there are substantial opportunities out there. And we certainly don’t expect that business to go down the tubes and wither away next year in 2015.

So I think it’s worth watching those quarterly bookings in particular. I will tell you that I am not at all surprised, where we ended up in terms of bookings this quarter, because you kind of know when you’re getting close, and it’s not going to be one of those businesses where every quarter bookings match shipments.

I think it’s one of those businesses where once a year, we’re going to have a booking that’s going to far exceed shipments and provide the foundation for the business going forward for the next year. So we’ll give as much guidance to that as we can. And given that we’re in the middle of 2014, we’re not in the habit of talking about 2015 in much detail, and we’re not prepared to do that today.

But I can assure you, Tyler, that when we bought that business, we did a survey of customers, we talked to a handful of them and we got a sense for the long-term range and the long-term opportunity, and we decided to go forward. And I’m second-guessing that at this point. I actually think the strength it shows through in these financial results should get people excited at what this business is capable of.

Tyler Hojo – Sidoti Company

I mean there is no doubt that the operating performance is very impressive in Test. I guess just as a follow-up though, when you look at your, I guess the $40 million customer that you’re not going to name until your K, at what point do they give you kind of visibility? I mean, is it more of a, book-and-ship, sort of business or do you tend to have order visibility going into the next year?

Peter Gundermann

I think we’ll have order visibility. Obviously, it’s pretty a close relationship. They’re not at this point willing or able to commit to next year. So if they were to be directly open with us, I’m not sure how much we could take that to the bank. So at this point we’re executing and focusing on a pretty substantial ramp and so are they.

And the best thing we can do is make sure that that performance goes well, because we do believe that there are opportunities to further have this program run. So the worst thing we could do is under perform. We’re not inclined to under perform. We think it’s going pretty. And as best I can tell our customer feel so also.

Tyler Hojo – Sidoti Company

Just I guess moving to something else. Could you maybe talk a little bit more about in-seat power? How are the narrow-body retrofits tracking as a percentage of kind of the total cabin electronics volume? Is that becoming a more meaningful piece today?

Peter Gundermann

Yes, I think it is. And it’s also becoming — the quoting activity is remaining healthy. So we’re pretty pleased with that. I know you’re pretty familiar with the numbers. We are definitely of the opinion that we’re somewhere south of that 10% total installed base, penetration rate at this point. And a lot of narrow-body airplanes get built every year. So we think that’s a meaningful opportunity.

And it’s a little hard for us to track exactly what products are going narrow-body and what products are going wide-body, because the products tend to be fairly modular. And many of our customers operate a wide range of aircraft, so we don’t always know where they’re putting it, but as best we piece it together that trend is continuing. And the airlines that are doing it are reporting a high-customer satisfaction rate, which is the most important thing from our perspective. And we think we’re in a good shape on that.

Tyler Hojo – Sidoti Company

And just lastly, just want to talk about how the Aerospace acquisitions are tracking. I guess just the numbers you provide in the press release, $6 million of operating profit on $42 million in sales, so the contribution margin is lower than kind of the core margin for that segment. What’s going into that? Is something tracking a little bit differently than you had originally anticipated or is it just really more AeroSat and kind of the ramp associated there?

Peter Gundermann

Well, it’s a big question. I guess, I’d say there is some ramp issues at AeroSat. I mean that’s a project in the making, but we’re making a lot of progress there. And we think that it’s going to be an exciting second half to the year. It’s a very active place, I can tell you that.

But I guess we feel like the acquisitions in general are tracking as low as we’d hope. In fact, everything is kind of moving more or less as we expected. As the business gets bigger, there are more moving parts and more things can popup either on a positive side or negative side. But I can’t tell you that we’re surprised anymore with the new businesses than we are maybe with the old businesses. So I think things are tracking the way we wanted them too.

Operator

The next question is from Kevin Ciabattoni of KeyBanc Capital Markets.

Kevin Ciabattoni – KeyBanc Capital Markets

Pete, you mentioned in Test you mentioned getting large orders kind of lumpy. Just kind of wondering what drive those orders from your customers? Is it typically new product introductions by from either your end or from the customer’s end or is it factory upgrade? Just kind of trying to get a grip on what the typical drivers there are?

Peter Gundermann

I think the way to think about it is that it’s typically driven by a customer’s recognition of the capability that our systems can offer them, and then their implementing those capabilities on a widespread basis. So our customers tend to be pretty large organizations either in the military or in the commercial sector. And when they embrace our technology, they’re typically not buying one or two or three, they’re typically buying and standardizing and implementing the technology across a relatively wide user base.

So it tends to be a large order. And it tends to be an order, which has more a program, which has more of a beginning and an end to it and doesn’t go on forever and ever and ever like building 737 for example. So that’s what makes that business more incline towards large orders and it helps explain why it tends to have maybe a little bit more of a lumpy aspect to it.

Kevin Ciabattoni – KeyBanc Capital Markets

In the Test business, I mean, can you give us an idea of what kind of volume you need to see to keep those margins I guess accretive to the overall corporate margin? I mean obviously, if you look at an adjusted basis, x the inventory step up, you’re approaching the mid-20% on operating margins here this quarter. I mean I think in the past you’ve said, it’s kind of in line or slightly above corporate margins. Just wondering what kind of volumes it would take on the topline to maintain that?

Peter Gundermann

I can tell you, we’re very focused on that right now. And Dave, I don’t know if you want to chime in on this one. But our major focus is managing this particular program, which is consuming a lot of waking hours and we think there is tremendous leverage there. I guess from my perspective, it’s a high variable cost business.

So it can act a little bit like an accordion and ramp to pretty high levels or shrink to pretty low levels, depending on what the workload is. Obviously, there are financial ramifications to that, but I think the answer to your question, kind of a breakeven level is not something we spent a whole lot of time with at this point. Dave, I don’t know if you want to clarify that at all.

David Burney

That’s true. The business will be the operating income like the rest, like our Aerospace business is highly dependent on the topline. There is relatively fair amount of fixed cost that don’t go up or down with the increase or decrease in sales. So that’s the thing to watch. And I would say to see where it settles out in the long run.

But as Pete mentioned earlier, we expect a fair amount of cyclicality to the new Test business going from quarter-to-quarter, and we’re still getting our feet on the ground to see where that shakes out. But in the long run, I would expect the operating margins over a long period of time to be in that range, where we see the rest of our business in over the long run, but we’ll have quite a bit of variation from quarter-to-quarter I think.

Kevin Ciabattoni – KeyBanc Capital Markets

Shifting gears to the Aerospace side of the business. Saw a bit of a mixed shift this quarter between the lighting and tower pieces of the business relative to last quarter. It looks like tower motion was down a little bit sequentially, lighting was up. Just kind of wondering if there is any puts and takes or kind of product-specific commentary you can give around that?

Peter Gundermann

No. I guess I would view that as kind of a normal fluctuation and variations quarter-to-quarter, nothing newsworthy.

Kevin Ciabattoni – KeyBanc Capital Markets

And then, we’ve seen some cautious language out of the European carriers, and we saw Lufthansa and Air France. Does the airline profitability in Europe, I guess specifically impacts your longer-term outlook, especially for power installations? And I know most of your work at least upgraded on their bodies is domestic, that’s kind of been one of the big growth areas. But just wondering, given the discretionary nature there, if you’ve got any concerns longer-term?

Peter Gundermann

Well, first of all, let me correct you a little bit. We do a lot of work domestically for sure, but we also do a lot of work in Europe, South America and Asia. I mean they are all very important markets to us. And the North American Airlines actually were well behind most of the airlines in the rest of the world a couple of years ago and have recently kind of caught up a little bit with activity. But I wouldn’t characterize as if dependent on North America more or so than the rest of the world at all.

Obviously, from our perspective it’s helpful to have profitable customers, because that is discretionary. And not only that, but it add some amount of weight, which cost them money to operate their fleets. But I think our perspective is that the demand for the product is so overwhelming that we haven’t sensed any kind of concern like that. That’s any kind of change from what we’ve been seeing for the last few years.

Definitely true, that different airlines have different personalities and they’ll prioritize things differently, and that will always be the case. But we don’t see a shift necessarily based on economics, where people who were optimistic are all of a sudden getting a little more pessimistic. And I don’t think that’s an accurate diagnosis of what we see in the market at all.

Kevin Ciabattoni – KeyBanc Capital Markets

And then, last one, just a housekeeping question. Any guidance you can give on the rest of the year in terms of the tax rate, it’s been pretty higher here in the last two quarters. Just kind of curious where is it going for the rest of the year?

Peter Gundermann

Dave?

David Burney

I assume you want me to answer that, Pete.

Peter Gundermann

Yes, you can answer that.

David Burney

We’re planning for a rate of about 34% for the balance of the year. It’s higher than what we’ve seen in recent history. The main driver of that increases are 1% to 2% increase, because of the lack of the RD tax credit right now. If that RD tax credit gets puts back into place, we’ll see a drop by 1% or 2%.

Operator

The next question is from Ken Herbert of Canaccord.

Ken Herbert – Canaccord

Just wanted to follow-up. The Aerospace margins, Dave, when you back out the acquisition impact were pretty impressive over 18%, 18% to 19%. Is that a sustainable range or was there anything you saw this quarter in particular with the legacy Aerospace product that may have contributed?

David Burney

No. I think the quarter was a, what I would describe as, a pretty typical quarter for Aerospace. We had good solid product mix. And there was nothing unusual in there.

Ken Herbert – Canaccord

For the second half of the year, that’s I guess, a run rate that’s reasonable to expect?

David Burney

I don’t see anything that I would expect any significant change in there. One of things that Pete alluded to earlier is that, the engineering cost are becoming less as a percentage of our revenue, as our topline has grown more so than our engineering cost, which is part of our cost of goods sold. So that plays a part in it too.

Ken Herbert – Canaccord

And then, Pete, you had some good reduction in the debt this quarter, a nice step-up there. Can you just remind us again from a leverage standpoint, sort of where you stand now? And I know the priorities going to continue to be investing in the business from a growth standpoint, but anything we should read into the payment on the debt this quarter and any implications moving forward from a leverage standpoint?

Peter Gundermann

Dave, I think I’ll let you answer that one instead of correcting me afterwards.

David Burney

I wouldn’t correct you. I am sure, you would answer it. But our objective this year, going into the year, knowing that we were going to begin the year with more leverage than what we have had typically was to use our excess cash flow to reduce that debt level, pay down our draw on our revolver, and kind of reload ourselves and get ourselves some more dry powder going forward into the year.

We are up around 3x leverage, 3x EBITDA. And I’d like to get down and stay below 2x, and be ready and flexible in our capital structure. And that’s the mission for this year with our excess cash.

Peter Gundermann

But Ken, I think the tone of your question was accurate, and that we’re not starving the business or cutting expenditures for the sake of paying down that debt. The other term Dave used excess cash is the important one here. We are continuing to invest and go after opportunities as we see them, but instead of sitting on cash we don’t necessarily need, we’re paying down that debt and preparing ourselves for what might come next. I mean opportunities come and opportunities go and we want to be as prepared as possible for when something comes up.

Ken Herbert – Canaccord

And then finally, with the, I think you said $27 million you’re paying this year for the movement of the new facility for PECO, and I am guessing that that move is, if not happened, happening very soon. Just any update on the progress there? But then more importantly, any commentary you could provide from a competitive and cost basis standpoint, perhaps the magnitude of this move and what it might do from a competitive situation for PECO, as you look to continue to build out there with your primary customer?

Peter Gundermann

That’s a good question. And some things are easy to dream about, but a little hard to quantify. I think the compelling reason for the move would be obvious. If I could show you the facility that the company is operating in currently, it’s a very old facility, dating back to, I’m trying to think, like 1910 or something, maybe 1920. It’s pretty old. And the company has done a really good job operating out of this facility, but it’s just less than optimal.

And so we are wondering what this might do. I would tell you that in today’s world, it would be very difficult for the company to attract a customer like Boeing, given that old facility. But obviously, they did that a long time ago, so don’t have to worry about it right now.

But to the extent that we want to expand the business to other customers, which maybe PECO hasn’t traditionally reached out to, we think a new facility, and the economics, and the flexibility that all go with it are pretty important to that process. So that’s all part of it.

As far as timing goes, we actually have not — we’re doing a lot of work. The building is empty. We’re putting in new lighting and putting in new pads for equipment, and laying it out and getting all the utility stuff done. But we’re not actually planning to move into in until the tail end of this year. So we actually haven’t relocated anything yet.

Ken Herbert – Canaccord

And should we expect in the latter part of the year when you move any maybe inventory build or other issues from a contingency standpoint as part of that process?

Peter Gundermann

Yes, there probably will be. We don’t expect that that will be a critical element. It happens that the company, shortly before we bought it, was operating out of three facilities. And they shut down one, which was fairly substantial and moved into an expansion of the current facility in terms of lease space.

So they have a pretty good track record of working with their big customers and executing those moves successfully. Well, account to that move went really well, and from my perspective that serves as a pretty useful training ground going forward.

So yes, we will build some product ahead of time. We’d expect that to flush through in relatively short order. So I wouldn’t expect it to be something that materially affects our financials. But it could boost one quarter or hurt another one. We’ll also see how that plays out specifically when we get there.

Operator

The next question is from Dick Ryan of Dougherty.

Dick Ryan – Dougherty

Pete, can you give us a sense of what AeroSat contributed as part of avionics in the June quarter?

Peter Gundermann

I think it’s safe to say that it was negligibly profitable and not a major contributor. I am anticipating your next question in terms of where we are with the variety of STC programs that we’re working on. And I think it’s safe to say, we’re pretty pleased in the commercial transport sector. We’re probably completely done with two-thirds of those initiatives.

So we’re at the point where shipments are expected to ramp up in the second half year along with orders. And we will kind of finish the details on the remaining STC efforts, those are a little bit complicated due to some unique circumstances, but I guess I’d expect them to be resolved certainly by the end of the year. And we’ll have that all behind us.

But like I said earlier, that I think the progress that we’re making there organizationally and capability-wise is solid, and it’s measurable. And it leaves us more or less where we thought we would be recognizing that we have a lot of work to do here in the second half.

Dick Ryan – Dougherty

With the STCs in hand, I mean you’ve given some guidance in the past for AeroSat, would that still be a reasonable range with the STCs in hand?

Peter Gundermann

I don’t think we’re changing that. It maybe weighted a little. It’s going to be weighted more to the second half than it was in the first half just due to delays all the way around. And one of the things you run into is the airlines like to keep their airplanes in the air in the summer, when load factors are high. So scheduling from that perspective, once the STCs were granted, it took a little bit of a hit, but we would expect that activity to pick up in the fall here.

Dick Ryan – Dougherty

Performance-wise what’s fielded, how is that doing?

Peter Gundermann

I think, overall, we’re doing pretty well. There definitely are issues occasionally from time to time, but these are pretty complex assemblies that operate in the pretty harsh environment. So that is not necessarily to be a surprise. None of the things that we’ve seen are things that concern us, the kind of feeling when you’re thinking it may have some kind of very significant issue to address, a little more kind of onesies here and onesies there.

And to some extent they are learning curve issues with installation houses. So we’ve seen some problems there, where things don’t necessarily get installed correctly, and we have to fix it later when something breaks because of it. And so there is a lot of that going on, but nothing that we would consider alarming or out of the ordinary for this kind of product.

Dick Ryan – Dougherty

A couple more on the Test side. Obviously, the large customer you have is highly customized, but are there other commercial applications that you can utilize some of that technology for or is that just a pretty narrow niche that you can address on the commercial side with just the one customer?

Peter Gundermann

As the product is configured, it’s highly unique to that customer, and it’s very much a joint effort. And one of the things that we do well is work with customers very closely. So if you’re to try to carve out the IP as to what belongs to who, it could be a pretty complicated cut, when you look at that particular machine. But the capabilities that we bring to the party, we think are applicable to other industries and other customers within those industries.

So part of our mission, obviously, long-term is to explore those opportunities. And one way to reduce this cyclicality and the lumpiness of the business is to expand the customer base and the program base. And I think we’re going to be able to do that. I think it may take some time, but I think we got a lot of capability and capacity and potential with this acquisition. So given what we’ve seen over four months now, and given what we expect to see over the rest of this year, we’re pretty pleased with it.

Dick Ryan – Dougherty

How about on the non-commercial side, I mean back to its core capabilities, is that 2016, 2017 sort of opportunities or is there something more near-term that could kick in?

Peter Gundermann

Yes. It’s a good question. And I’m going to give you a vague answer unfortunately, because this is such an unpredictable climate. But just like us, they have historical relationship with certain branches to the armed services and there are certain known needs. And there are plenty of customers, who would like to have something and have something now, but the funding environment just doesn’t support it.

So your question is really one of, when is the funding environment going to change or when is the need going to get so unbearable that they absolutely have to do something, and that’s just really hard to predict. But we haven’t seen anything certainly in the last 90 days that has changed that environment dramatically.

Dick Ryan – Dougherty

One last one. The EPDS side, good progress, jets, turbos, helicopters. When should we start looking for contribution on from that segment?

Peter Gundermann

Well, that’s a good question. We need some of these airplanes to get flying in quantity. The TBM actually they came out with a new derivative just a few months ago called, the TBM 900, which is the current version kind of superseding the TBMA 50. And so that’s starting to happen, it’s just not a big seller, in terms of ships that content. So it will be a while for that to make a measurable impact.

We need to have a Lear program, get in the air. We need to have some of the other programs we’ve talked about. The Pilatus program is probably out there for a little while, it’s a development program. I think they’re hoping to fly middle or next year, don’t pull me on that. And that the helicopter world, actually the helicopter development world seems to move quite a bit faster than fixed wing. So that may become more of a contributor sooner than we might have expected.

And of course the Lear program, we’ve been working at for a while. We are well through our development effort there. We have some testing to do, but it’s really up to them at this point to get the flight test program completed and get into production. And we are waiting like many other people in industry to see how that unfolds.

Operator

The next question is from Scott Lewis of Lewis Capital Management.

Scott Lewis – Lewis Capital Management

A question on the AeroSat side, could you say what percent of the revenues maybe in the second half you expect to be Gogo related? And then secondly, if Gogo does move ahead in a couple of years with this 2Ku technology they’ve discussed, what are your opportunities maybe with other providers or maybe a competing technology, if you could talk about that a little bit?

Peter Gundermann

Gogo is certainly planned to be a major customer in the second half. It’s possible that could be like an 80% customer. But it could be quite a bit lower than that, because we are working a fairly significant program with a foreign country, which has been underway for quite a while, which if that happens in the fourth quarter like it’s currently planned, could provide a fair amount of revenue base diluting the Gogo on it.

So it’s a little hard to say, but Gogo is definitely planned to be a significant customer. We’re familiar with the array of competitive offerings that are out there. Antenna technology is one of those things, where different design topologies have advantages and disadvantages. There is no silver bullet. And we think that our product has a solid long-term home in the Ku environment.

And we understand that companies make announcements from time to time. I guess our perspective is that we’re going to keep our nose down and do our jobs. And we think that based on the technical comparisons, which we’re privy to. We’re not concerned about being cut out, so to speak. So that’s the number one.

Number two, we have the flexibility of designing antennas for a wide array of applications, not only Ku, but Ka or whatever other tips that a customer wants to work with. So the limitation for us isn’t necessarily the technology, the issue is can you find customers that have the market potential to justify the development excellence.

And so from that perspective, while we are certainly working very closely with Gogo to further their product and their ambitions, we also are looking out for opportunities, where we might take our technology or modify our technology for other opportunities. And when and if we get close, we’ll talk about those specifically. But at this point, we don’t have anything to comment on.

Scott Lewis – Lewis Capital Management

And then last question. On the VVIP where you announced your first win a few months ago. Have you started work on that plane and how is that market looking for you?

Peter Gundermann

It’s looking pretty good. The capability we have is best suited for pretty large airplanes. So it’s a pretty unique market. It’s a universe of a couple of hundred planes. But the subscription potential there we think is very positive. And we think there are ways to adopt the product offering through a smaller class of airplanes that may want a smaller footprint antenna on their fuselage. And we’re actively investigating that. So I can’t tell you that that’s a major contributor to our current financials, but we think it’s a compelling opportunity long-term. And we are addressing it.

Operator

And the next question is from Josh Goldberg of G2 Investment Partners.

Josh Goldberg – G2 Investment Partners

I had a couple of questions. I guess, first, as you talked at the beginning of the call, this is the first quarter without any acquisitions or anything else like that. I realized that probably some of your revenue this quarter might be seasonal. But if I just take a $170 million or $180 million or so of revenue, is that a good run rate to go on as you proceed on to the back half of the year and then to next year. And then I have a follow-up.

Peter Gundermann

Well, certainly for the back half of this year, we have achieved revenue of $315 million, and we’re talking about a midpoint of the range for $652 million, so you can subtract them and divide by 2. And that’s what we have to average for the rest of this year.

2015 is too early to predict. We don’t necessarily get into that modeling exercise until at least the third quarter call. Some times the details come out later than that. And there are certain parts of our business that are fairly predictable. There are certain parts that are a little bit lumpier or a little bit harder to understand. So as we get closer, we’ll provide more clarity. For now, we’re more focused on finishing up this year well.

Josh Goldberg – G2 Investment Partners

And then just on the earnings number, like you said it was around $0.70 for the quarter with the step-up. And then in the September quarter you’re going to have that issue again. And then by December will be completely free and clear. Are there any other one-time items or cost problems that could hurt you or your cost of goods and your gross profit in the back half of year?

Peter Gundermann

Nothing material or we would have probably brought that up. We have quite a few moving parts at this point. And so we will always be looking to prepare ourselves for the opportunities as they come up. But I can’t say that we see something that’s materially going to affect us, and there are pros and the cons.

Obviously, one of the things that’s positive is from a margin standpoint. And from the gross margin down is that lower ED spend as a percentage of revenue, it’s 3% or 4% maybe compared to where we’ve been historically. But as a percentage of bottomline contribution, it’s a big mover. So that’s good.

And as best we can tell with the new businesses, we’re making good progress. So we continue to watch them pretty closely and it’s possible that something could come up that could affect us one way or the other, and we’ll communicate that as soon as we can. But at this point, we don’t have anything like that to comment on.

Operator

Thank you. And we have no further questions in the queue at this time. I would like to turn the floor back over to management for any closing remarks.

Peter Gundermann

No real closing remarks. Thanks for attending. We look forward to talking to you at the end of the next quarter. Have a good day.

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, this does conclude today’s teleconference. You may disconnect your lines at this time. And thank you for your participation.

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Model plane hobbyist eyes world meet – messenger

Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 12:00 am

Model plane hobbyist eyes world meet

By Jim Warren Lexington Herald-Leader

Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer

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Kenny Stevens fell in love with airplanes at age 9, and he still loves them at age 54.

He’s particularly passionate about airplanes of a certain size — ones that weigh about 65 ounces and have electric engines.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 12:00 am.

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Analyst: F-35C to Cost $337 Million Apiece in FY15

A longtime defense analyst and critic of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program says taxpayers next year will pay between $148 million and $337 million per jet, depending on the model.

Winslow Wheeler, a staff member at the Project On Government Oversight who has worked on national-security issues for the Senate and the Government Accountability Office, detailed his cost estimates for the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made fifth-generation stealth fighter in a recent article on Medium​.com.

Wheeler puts the per-plane production price tag at $148 million for the Air Force’s F-35A, which can take off and land on conventional runways; $251 million for the Marine Corps’ F-35B, which can fly like a plane and hover and land like a helicopter; and $337 million for the Navy’s F-35C, which can take off and land on aircraft carriers. The average cost for all three variants is $178 million, he wrote.

“This data is the empirical, real-world costs to buy, but not to test or develop, an F-35 in 2015,” he wrote. “They should be understood to be the actual purchase price for 2015—what the Pentagon will have to pay to have an operative F-35.”

Wheeler derived the estimates using recent figures from the Senate Appropriations Committee. The figures don’t include research and development costs, but do include funding from the previous year’s appropriations act for “advance procurement” and from aircraft modifications.

Wheeler rejects the use of an aircraft’s so-called flyaway cost to describe its true expense because, he wrote, “those airplanes are incapable of operative flight. They lack the specialized tools, simulators, logistics computers — and much, much more — to make the airplane usable. They even lack the fuel to fly away.”

Michael Rein, a spokesman for Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed’s F-35 program, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment to the article.

Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s F-35 program office, disputed Wheeler’s estimates, saying they’re misleading and don’t reflect what the department contracts for the planes.

Under the most recent production contract with Lockheed, the department in 2013 agreed to pay $112 million per F-35A, $139 million per F-35B and $130 million per F-35C, DellaVedova said. Those figures, known as unit recurring flyaway costs, include the airframe, engine, mission systems, profit and concurrency, he said.

The government has also shifted from bearing all the financial risk in the program to sharing it with Lockheed and Pratt Whitney, which makes the F135 engine for the single-engine fighter, DellaVedova said in an e-mail. The contractors now cover 100 percent of any cost overruns and 50 percent of concurrency costs, he said.

“Affordability is the No. 1 priority for the F-35 program,” he said. “You can have the best airplane in the world, but if nobody can afford it, it does you no good. We are doing all we can to drive prices down and we are making a difference.”

Kevin Brancato, a senior defense analyst at Bloomberg Government, said in an e-mail that Wheeler’s estimates appear to be correct, but emphasized that the vast majority of the differences between the unit cost of the variants in fiscal 2015 is due to spreading nonrecurring and support costs over fewer aircraft.

Nonrecurring costs include production tooling, money for buying out parts that will be difficult to source later and money for cost-reduction initiatives, while support costs pay for engineering related to production, he said.

“The Navy’s C variant will be far more expensive in FY15 than the other variants because the Navy will pay $170 million in nonrecurring costs and $247 million in support costs while buying only two aircraft,” Brancato said. “That’s $416 million in total, or $208 million per jet, before the cost of airframes, electronics and engines.

“In contrast, the nonrecurring and support costs are $78 million for each Marine Corps B variant, and just $37 million for each Air Force A variant,” he said. “For fiscal 2015, the Marines requested six jets and the Air Force requested 26.”

Meanwhile, recurring unit production costs — the airframes, electronics and engines — will continue to decline for the F-35A and F-35B, Brancato said. For the F-35C, the number being built will drop to two from four, which will drive up the cost of the airframe, yet the cost of the electronics and engines will still go down, he said.

The Joint Strike Fighter is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons acquisition program, estimated to cost a total of $398.6 billion for a total of 2,457 aircraft. That breaks down to a per-plane cost of $162 million, including research and development.

The Pentagon in its budget for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, requested $8.3 billion for 34 of the aircraft, including 26 F-35As, 6 F-35Bs and 2 F-35Cs. The House Appropriations Committee voted to buy an additional four aircraft, for a total of 38, while the Senate panel agreed with the Pentagon’s request — a difference that will have to be resolved in conference negotiations.

The fighter jet missed its highly hyped international debut in the United Kingdom earlier this month. It was scheduled to appear for the first time at three events in the U.K., culminating with a flight demonstration at the Farnborough International Air Show outside London. But the aircraft was a no-show after an engine fire in one of the planes resulted in a fleet-wide grounding and subsequent flight restrictions.

(Story was updated to include quotes from F-35 program office spokesman.)

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Mission to find missing model airplanes

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) –

One Little Rock woman is on a mission to find some missing model airplanes.

They were built by her father and put on display for 15 years.

This effort is not fueled by monetary gain. The search is purely sentimental.

The Arkansas Aerospace Education Center has been closed nearly four years and will soon be demolished.

Pem McRae was a founding member.

“He was a pilot…private pilot,” recalls McRae’s daughter Anne Crosby. “And flew commercially for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. And just had a love for aviation.”

Anne Crosby says her father died in 2009. His model airplane collection was on display inside the museum. She is now trying to get it back for her grandchildren.

She has photos of the model planes but has no idea where they ended up. Large items were auctioned off to help pay debt. But smaller objects were donated or stored.

The question is…where?

“With your help I talked with Dick Holberg with Central Flying Service and he was very accommodating and understanding and in fact knew my dad from years back,” says Crosby. “And um, when I send him pictures he is going to be on the trail too.”

If Pem McRae was given paperwork showing that his planes were on loan and not given to the museum, his daughter doesn’t have it.

Most of McRae’s belongings were lost in a fire one year before his death…another reason Anne Crosby wants to find these connections to her father’s life.

Air date: July 30th, 2014

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Boeing To Build New Dreamliner Model Exclusively in SC

Columbia, SC (WLTX) — Boeing announced today that they will build a new version of their 787 Dreamliner airplane exclusively at their North Charleston facility.

The current 787-8 and 787-9 models will continue to have final assembly happening at both their Everett, Washington, and North Charleston assembly plants, but the new design, the 787-10, be most beneficial for the Company’s production processes by performing the full assembly here.

The new 787-10 Dreamliner is currently in the design phase at their Everett facility, and when the first final assembly is completed in North Charleston in 2017, the newest design will be 18 feed longer than their current largest Dreamliner model, the 787-9.

The new design extends the mid-body portion of the airplanes by 10 feet, making those sections too long for transportation aboard the modified 747-400 Dreamlifters that move large parts, including body sections and wings, from factories in Italy, Japan and South Carolina. Most body sections are now built in Charleston.

In a statement released after Boeing’s announcement, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said: “That Boeing is committing the future of the Dreamliner to our state – the first place ever outside of Washington State that Boeing has built a commercial airplane, lets the whole world know that South Carolina’s workers are the best around.”

What is currently known as Boeing South Carolina started out as two suppliers back to provide fuselage parts early in the 787 program. Boeing bought out those suppliers and, in 2009, choosing to make Charleston a second assembly line site for the 787.

Boeing says the design of the 787-10 will continue in Everett.

Controversy has long followed the Charleston factory, with workers in Everett complaining about the quality of parts coming from the site. The company has put both pressure and incentives onto the Charleston work force to come up to speed, something the company claims has now happened.

Boeing says Everett will continue to assemble seven 787s per month, with Charleston increasing from the current rate of three airplanes per month to five in 2016 and seven by 2020.

The 787-10 already has 132 orders from six customers.

This longer Dreamliner design will enable plane owners to provide more passenger and cargo space, and gives the airlines greater competitive advantage with more seats-per-mile.

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Home News Great War Flying Museum captures stories of the…

Caledon Enterprise

It’s the definition of a labor of love.

Because without the love of everything flight, it simply wouldn’t be there.

Nestled on the south side of the Brampton Flight Centre’s drive way is the Great War Flying Museum. A tribute to everything aviation from the World’s first, and arguably, most violent conflict.

The First World War, still known today as The Great War, was a time of firsts. It was the first mass use and adaptation of the machine gun. It rolled out artillery and batteries not seen in conflict before. It brought world powers together, and launched a trench conflict never before, and hopefully, never again seen in its scale.

It is known as the Great War because of the scope of that marching conflict, the men and the horses who fought a virtual stalemate for four years, and the approximately 10 million who would not return home.

But for all of its violence on the ground, the scope of the conflict also made new technologies a focus. It saw men and scientists focus on innovations that still reverberate in general society today. And one of those is flight.

With the changes came the legends, and the heroes. The stories to be told.

Most Canadians know the name Billy Bishop.

Anyone who’s seen the characteristic red of the Red Baron’s Fokker Dr. I (Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richtofen actually flew many planes, but is known for the Fokker Dr. I, in which he reportedly secured 19 of his 80 kills) or even laughed along with the great Snoopy while he satirized the dog fights, knows that flight began to play a larger and larger role as the world descended into war.

And a group of aviation lovers has brought a physical tribute to the fields of Caledon that may not rival others in size, but in dedication and depth of information, it compares with the best.

“We’re a group of guys who just all like airplanes,” said Rino Sovran, a former Air Canada pilot, who in his retirement, just like the majority of men working within the Brampton Flight Centre hangar, has decided to educate the public on what he loves. It’s a group of dedicated volunteers showing off one of the finest model airplane collections available. The quality comes from the expertise of retired pilots, maintenance engineers, “everything we need to do it ourselves,” Sovran explained.

Begun in 1970by a group of Brampton Flying Club members, the museum is two buildings. To the east is the hangar. Within its walls the engine room, the shop, and the boys with their toys. Replicas of a Sopwith Camel, a Fokker DVII (this writer walked in on the crew attaching a recently reconstructed bottom wing), an S.E.5a (a better fighter than the Camel, but limited in production due to engine issues), a Nieuport 28 (a French plane flown by Americans) and others stand stoically, reminders of the power, and the intimate fights, and deaths, of the brave World War I pilots.

And to the West, is the dark brown entrance to the museum itself. Small in scope, it is not lacking in care and quality. The walls are littered in memorabilia, photos, uniforms, caps, badges, and stories of all sides of the conflict in flight. From the German, RAF and RCAF aces who would contest the skies (in the beginning with methods as simple as hand pistols and grappling hooks) to the French and British manufacturers so key to getting various planes into the skies, and the academic reality that World War I flight was more about reconnaissance and providing key information to the troops on the ground than the dogfights Hollywood has made so popular, everything is at the fingertips of the visitor. The eyes are filled with painstaking visuals, the mind, constantly reading.

It is a small museum not lacking in quality, again, a sign of the labor that has put it together.

“In some cases we’re offered planes from hobby guys themselves that have started with the equipment, and just lost interest, run out of parts, or their enthusiasm,” said Jerry Fotheringham, one of the longest tenured volunteers. “Their interest declines, but ours never does. We’ll finish the planes, finish the stories. We just want to make sure those stories get told.”

The equipment, if it doesn’t exist, is built within the walls of that east hangar – the stories, told by the very voices that reconstruct them.

It’s a feat, and a visit, worth noting.

The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from the Victoria Day weekend in May until the weekend following Labour Day in September. Admission is $5 per person. Children 12 and under, and veterans are free. Family admission can be obtained for $20.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, from 2 to 4 p.m., visitors are welcomed to the hangar to watch the boys work on maintenance and repairs.

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NVIDIA SHIELD Tablet and SHIELD Controller Review

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With the Android platform continuing its growth, mobile app and game developers, as well as hardware manufacturers, are all looking to slice themselves off a piece of the pie. NVIDIA, known for their long history in desktop computing, has always seemed highly focused on mobile gaming on Android, going back as far as the release of the Tegra 2 processor which powered the DROID X2.

Now, NVIDIA has the Tegra K1 quad-core processor, capable of running PC grade games on mobile devices. Not only are mobile processors stronger than ever, but the hardware game has changed significantly in the past few years, with the company releasing the SHIELD Tablet and SHIELD Controller as of this morning.

Both devices broaden the newly-named “SHIELD Family,” which also includes last year’s SHIELD Portable, previously known as just SHIELD. This new tablet and controller are NVIDIA’s commitment to make mobile gaming on Android an experience like you have never had on Android. I’m not sure anyone could have imagined when we all got our first DROID devices back in 2009, that this is where we were headed in terms of mobile gaming. Below, we take a look at NVIDIA’s new Android-powered gaming offerings, putting them to the ultimate Android fanboy gaming test.

This is our SHIELD Tablet and SHIELD Controller review.

The Good


Specs

Featuring a Tegra K1 processor clocked up to 2.2GHz, 192-core GPU, and 2GB of RAM, the Tegra K1 is essentially unmatched in performance potential among other Android-powered tablets. Built with gamers in mind, NVIDIA has delivered a tablet that can stand up to any type of usage, whether that be PC game streaming, Netflix HD streaming, web browsing, local game playing, and much more. The SHIELD Tablet also features an 8″ Full HD display (1920 x 1200), 5MP front-facing camera, 5MP rear-facing camera, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, 16GB or 32GB of onboard storage (depending on which model you buy), dual front-facing stereo speakers, microSD slot for up to 128GB of storage, 4G LTE connectivity (available only with compatible model), 19.75 watt hours battery, mini-HDMI out, and runs stock Android 4.4.2 out of the box.

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Hardware / Build Quality

As we saw with last year’s SHIELD Portable, NVIDIA has a knack for making good hardware. The SHIELD Tablet and SHIELD Controller keep this young tradition alive, as NVIDIA is still relatively new to the consumer hardware scene. To me, it seems the company has no problem sparing any expense, concluding with two devices that can stand up to the harshest of treatment. Sure, I wouldn’t drop either of these units off of a building and expect them to survive, but I can easily see the tablet and controller taking a good beating over the course of a couple years.

The SHIELD Tablet is semi-heavy, weighing in at 13.7oz, which makes it feel very durable and sturdy. It reminds me that I would rather have a tablet built for the long haul instead of an insanely light tablet that I constantly feel as if I’m going to snap in half. The SHIELD Controller is made of a hardened plastic, weighing 315 grams. It features console-grade controls, capacitive touch buttons, and an excellent in-hand feel. I would compare it to the SHIELD Portable’s controls, but it is much lighter given that it doesn’t feature a built-in display and a ton of additional hardware inside.

Gaming

Having been built specifically for gamers, there is no doubt that NVIDIA knocked it out of the park with the SHIELD Tablet and SHIELD Controller when it comes to gaming. Suitable for hardcore players to the more casual gaming enthusiasts among us, there really isn’t a game that this device can’t handle. Given that the SHIELD Tablet has full access to Google Play, you can use it as you would any other Android-powered tablet, downloading all of your favorite games to play whenever you would like.

Sending your gaming experience over the top is the GRID Beta application and the GameStream platform. With GameStream, owners of a GeForce GTX-powered PC rig can stream their PC games over a WiFi network directly to the SHIELD Tablet, giving you an awesome gaming experience from anywhere in your home. NVIDIA does a great job at making the setup process for the platform as easy as can be, while also making sure to visually “green light” your rig when it is hooked up properly with the correct drivers. Not only can you stream over 100 compatible games to your tablet over WiFi at 60fps in HD, but you can then hook the SHIELD Tablet up to your HDTV in the living room with Console Mode, which allows you to play your PC games at up to 60fps in 1080p right from your couch. It should also be noted that SHIELD Tablet allows for multiple SHIELD Controller devices to be hooked up to it simultaneously, meaning you and your friends can have fun at the same time.

The one feature which really blew me away was Stream to Twitch. While playing any game on your tablet, NVIDIA has built in the ability to livestream any gameplay to Twitch, for everyone to watch. So, you are streaming your PC game to the SHIELD Tablet using GameStream, streaming your gameplay up to Twitch for people to enjoy, and you can then also overlay a video of yourself using the tablet’s front-facing 5MP camera at the same time. It’s just like all of the gaming pros that you watch on YouTube and Twitch, minus the pain of setting all of the hardware up. To livestream, make sure you are signed in to Twitch on the tablet, pull down the notification shade, hit “Share,” then select “Broadcast to Twitch.” I livestreamed a little Granny Smith and Batman Arkham Origins (PC version) to test it out, and I came away very impressed with how easy it was to set up and control. If you enjoy watching a few YouTubers as I do that livestream their gameplay and commentary over it, you will have a blast trying it out for yourself.

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In addition, if you live in a supported area, don’t forget about the GRID Beta application. With GRID Beta, NVIDIA gives you access to multiple PC titles, without the need to buy anything. Games are streamed directly to your device over the cloud, meaning that you can get a lot of usage out of your SHIELD Controller, playing games such as Borderlands, Dead Island, Red Faction: Armageddon, Darksiders 2, and Alan Wake American Nightmare. Given that you have a decent router, gameplay streams phenomenally with no lag at all. This is most apparent when playing the racing game GRID, which calls for precise controls or you will end up going off of a cliff. Lag-free gameplay is thanks to the WiFi Direct connectivity between the SHIELD Tablet and SHIELD Controller, which is a much more powerful option for gamers over Bluetooth, with a direct data rate of 24Mbps versus Bluetooth’s 3Mbps.

To wrap this section up, I want to emphasize that NVIDIA does a great job at showcasing compatible games for the SHIELD Tablet paired with the SHIELD Controller, while also making players aware of Tegra exclusive titles that are available. While we don’t always agree with the “Tegra exclusive” game plan from NVIDIA and publishers, you might as well take full advantage of it if you own a compatible device. Owners of a compatible device can browse games through the Shop section of SHIELD Hub, which is an app downloaded from Google Play. Inside SHIELD Hub, you can see detailed descriptions for each game, including whether a title features full Controller support, “controller required” support, or partial controller support.

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Display

The SHIELD Tablet features an 8″ Full HD display, with a resolution of 1920 x 1200. Unlike the issues I had with SHIELD Portable last year, with its 5″ 720p display, the SHIELD Tablet features a gorgeous panel, capable of reproducing all of the stunning graphics that you would see on your HD computer monitor while playing games. That fact is important, given that streaming PC games to the Tablet is such a big selling point of the device. The overall size is quite nice as well; not too small like a Nexus 7, and not too big like a 10.1″ display. The 8″ allows for clear visuals, as well as an ultra portable experience. The display can get very bright, as well as extremely dark. It might actually get lower on the brightness scale than any other tablet I have seen to this date. This is good for me when I am laying in bed and don’t want to be blinded by a backlit display.

SHIELD Tablet - 1Macro

Macros for fun.

Battery

Given that I have only had the tablet for less than a week, and that time was spent constantly streaming content, I can only give a partial review of the battery life for the SHIELD Tablet. However, even though it was a short time, I came away very impressed with how long this tablet can stay alive while gaming and outputting Full HD content to my HDTV in Console Mode. Since last Wednesday morning, I have charged the device twice, but it never got lower than 15%, and I used the Tablet each day for a solid amount of time. I played local games from Google Play, streamed over GRID Beta, and used GameStream to play Batman Arkham Origins while livestreaming to Twitch. I never ran into any battery issues during this time. To me, that is most impressive.

As for the SHIELD Controller, I still have yet to plug that device into the wall for charging, since I haven’t needed to yet. Given that I haven’t needed to, and all you do is plug in a microUSB to charge it, I can give the SHIELD Controller a solid A+ in the battery department.

Once I have spent more time with the SHIELD Tablet and SHIELD Controller, using them as I would during a regular time (and not a reviewing period), I will report back with my findings if I feel the need to. For now, you can expect no type of battery issues from either device.

Software

There is no doubt that NVIDIA loves Android. Why else would they ship their hardware running stock Android, coupled with minor proprietary tweaks? Android as an OS is a strong mobile gaming platform, with NVIDIA only looking to make it stronger, while also capitalizing on it a bit. While keeping all baked-in applications to a minimum, the ones that NVIDIA does include are quite useful, including all of the SHIELD applications, a free copy of Trine 2, handwriting software for DirectStylus 2.0 (which we get into below), and the built-in Twitch integration. The software on SHIELD Tablet is an awesome package, full of value, which is also easy to navigate since it is stock Android. Everyone knows we are quite fond of stock Android, but there are certain companies that add in functional tweaks – such as Motorola – which make stock Android even better. NVIDIA has done that on the SHIELD Tablet. For that, we congratulate NVIDIA with a heartfelt golf clap.

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Updates from NVIDIA

Just like the SHIELD Portable, OS updates for the SHIELD Tablet are sent straight from NVIDIA, and the company is awesome in terms of turnaround time. With the SHIELD Portable, large Android updates took 4-6 weeks to be pushed out to all users, with NVIDIA expecting the same update times with the SHIELD Tablet. Quick update times are important for Android users, as it makes us feel like our devices are very important to the company which makes them. If a company releases an Android device, only to let it die with no updates after a year, then you should know not to buy a device from that company again. The SHIELD Portable is still receiving updates from NVIDIA, bringing more features, and of course, the latest versions of Android. If NVIDIA treats the SHIELD Tablet as they did the SHIELD Portable (which they will), buyers can expect a long updating life from their tablet.

DirectStylus 2.0

Before I dive deep into DirectStylus 2.0 talk, please make yourself aware that I am not an artist. I can draw a solid stick figure, and maybe a dog and cat, but that’s about it. With that said, I am the last person you want to explain the benefits of having a stylus coupled with this tablet, but I will try my best.

Built into SHIELD Tablet are a few apps which will help you get the most out of your stylus usage, these are NVIDIA Dabbler, Write, Evernote, and JusWrite. My favorite is NVIDIA Dabbler, which is basically a full painting studio inside of your tablet. Dabbler is the world’s first GPU accelerated 3D Painting application, which features gravity simulation, dynamic lighting controls, smart shape recognition, color mixing, and a ton more. As I mentioned, I can’t possibly explain these features in depth, but NVIDIA’s video on the software can give you a great look at it. Given that I had fun drawing my favorite Cartoon Network character (Clarence) with Dabbler, I can say that I actually had fun using DirectStylus 2.0.

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Dual Front-facing Speakers

The SHIELD Tablet comes with dual front-facing speakers, capable of awesome audio output. While playing my games, bumping my heavy metal tunes, and watching Netflix content, the speakers were always delivering good sounds for my ears to take in. While I noticed that they are not the loudest speakers, but are still plenty loud, and the sounds that are created by the speakers are clear, full, and controlled. At no point were there signs of peaking or crackling, something which I would find unacceptable for a luxury device such as this. Given that I consume a ton of content that requires good speakers every day of the week on my devices, it is nice to see that NVIDIA put special thought into the design (front-facing) and overall audio quality outputted by the SHIELD Tablet.

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Pricing and Availability 

The SHIELD Tablet and SHIELD Controller are available through NVIDIA’s own website, starting July 29. The Tablet with WiFi + 16GB of storage can be purchased for just $299, while the 4G LTE + 32GB model is listed at $399. They can also be purchased through Amazon and other select retail locations. The SHIELD Controller is priced at $59, and the SHIELD Cover/Stand is priced at $39. To me, these prices are very reasonable, considering the functionality and power you are getting. Not only are you getting an awesome tablet, but you are opening yourself up to a ton of great content to consume from GRID Beta, GameStream, NVIDIA Dabbler, and Twitch.

Somewhere-in-the-Middle


Camera

While I don’t think insane mobile photography was exactly what NVIDIA was looking to accomplish in creating the SHIELD Tablet, they didn’t do that bad of a job. The SHIELD Tablet features two shooters, one rear-facing 5MP and one front-facing 5MP. The front-facing shooter looks very good when livestreaming to Twitch, but besides that, I never have much use for a front facing camera. Maybe the occasional Snapchat, but I use my phone for that. The rear camera is not the best shooter I have seen on a tablet, but since it is a tablet, it gets the job done just fine.

The only downer is that instead of Google’s camera application, NVIDIA partnered with Camera Awesome to have their application preinstalled on the SHIELD Tablet, which I don’t really care for. Camera Awesome tends to be a bit bloated in my opinion, so I would rather have a plain point-and-shoot experience, especially since this is just a tablet. Regardless of software used, the pictures come out looking fine as long you can find some decent lighting and an object that stands still, unlike my dogs.

Photos below are unedited, but have been resized.

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Amount of Onboard Storage

The only real gripe I think anyone can have over the SHIELD Tablet is the amount of onboard storage that the WiFi-only model comes with. 16GB really isn’t all that much, especially when you consider that NVIDIA wants you to load this bad boy up with games and content. However, the tablet does feature a microSD slot for an additional 128GB of storage, but we all know that playing games from the microSD can sometimes be a bit hit and miss. From what I saw, after powering on the tablet, you are given about 12GB of storage to play with, which should be enough for a few big 1.5GB+ games from Google Play. Keep in mind, the SHIELD Tablet does come preloaded with Trine 2, which weighs in around 1.75GB on its own out of the box. With that said, this storage issue should really only matter to people who buy the $299 WiFi-only model, as I would assume that someone would never need to fill a tablet with 32GB of games. That’s just me, though.

SHIELD Controller


I wanted to give SHIELD Controller its own little section, given that it is its own little device. However, without a SHIELD Tablet, I don’t know how much fun a controller all by itself would be. Regardless, SHIELD Controller is a well constructed piece of hardware, featuring full console-grade triggers, bumpers, joysticks, capacitive buttons, a full volume rocker and a D-pad. I would compare it to the game controller that you can buy with the Fire TV, but much, much better. It is kind of small, easily handled with two hands, and you get the sense that you can really wrap your hand around it.

With the Controller, while playing PC games (or regular Android games, for that matter), you can hook up a full headset through the 3.5mm headphone jack, which also supports chat audio. If you play Call of Duty or a genre of game that requires a headset to chat with other players, you will know what I am referring to. When not using a headset, users can press the NVIDIA button and use Google Now, with voice commands such as “Open Netflix,” “Watch Godzilla,” and much more.

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Going back to battery talk, the SHIELD Controller is marketed as able to deliver up to 40 hours of gaming, taking less than 5 hours to go from completely drained to charged. Since the battery is not removable, all you do is plug the controller into the wall, which means you don’t have to worry about losing any parts since you are not removing anything.

All in all, the SHIELD Controller is a sweet little piece of hardware, perfectly paired with the SHIELD Tablet, but we do sort of wish that it was priced at $49.99 instead of $59.99. With a slightly lower price, people might be tempted to purchase more for multiplayer use cases.

Videos


Gallery


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The Verdict


I think it speaks volumes that the SHIELD Tablet is the first device I have reviewed where I didn’t think anything belonged in a “Not-so-Good” section. During my time with the unit, I didn’t come across a single gripe or pain point, which seems so rare these days. There is always something that I don’t care for in a device, but the SHIELD Tablet simply delivers exactly what it was made to, with no gimmicks and no bullsh*t.

To me, NVIDIA priced the SHIELD Tablet and SHIELD Controller as “affordable luxury” devices, meaning that you can get an insanely premium experience for the same price you would have with a watered-down Android experience from a competitor device. While I would normally always recommend a Nexus tablet over any other, the SHIELD Tablet will now replace Google’s offering in the recommendation category, given that you really get so much more value for your money.

The SHIELD Tablet coupled with the SHIELD Controller is the ultimate gaming package for Android lovers. All you have to do now is go buy one and see for yourself.

Amazon Links:  SHIELD Tablet ($299) | SHIELD Controller ($59.99) | SHIELD Cover ($39.99)

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