I know, I know. American Science & Engineering (NASDAQ:ASEI) told us that its earnings are "lumpy." Investors know that they're not dealing with a consistent churner-outer of earnings like GE (NYSE:GE), a fact which AS&E reminds us of pretty much every time it gets the chance -- but this is ridiculous.

On Wednesday, the maker of high-tech X-ray machines announced one of the biggest contracts I've ever seen it report: A monster $55 million deal to provide "multiple" OmniView Gantry cargo screeners, Z Portal vehicle zappers, and Z Backscatter mobile X-ray van systems to Abu Dhabi Customs in the United Arab Emirates. The reported purpose of the purchases is to "scan cargo trucks, passenger vehicles, and containers at strategic border checkpoints." But why stop there? With $55 million worth of tech hardware, I suspect Abu Dhabi would be able to scan every vehicle in every three-car garage in the emirate.

The significance for AS&E looms nearly as large. In recent quarters, the news feeds have been full of drips and drabs of high-tech sales and trial run installations of "millimeter wave" and "Rapiscan" security gear manufactured by AS&E rivals like L-3 (NYSE:LLL), Analogic (NASDAQ:ALOG), and OSI Systems (NASDAQ:OSIS). I admit to having developed a sneaking suspicion that AS&E was quickly losing the tech race in this field, supplanted by the almost as good, and significantly faster, machines being churned out by its rivals. No more.

To put this deal in context, $55 million is:

  • Equivalent to one-third of AS&E's annual revenue.
  • Eight times the size of the recent subcontract that L-3 gave Analogic for the latter's eXaminer XLB screening system.
  • Fourteen times as large as the most recent sale reported by OSI.

And it was all secured in a single contract. Now maybe it won't be delivered all at once, and probably not booked into revenues all in one quarter. Still, this is big news -- and a big boost in confidence for the company's shareholders such as yours Fool-y. It should also go a long way toward clearing up some of the inventory and cash flow concerns I've raised about the company in quarters past.

In closing: Thank you for the lump, AS&E. May we have another?

Shareholders have had a long wait for today's news. Read how we've suffered:

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.