Ground is broken for world's largest vertical wind tunnel at Yuma
The Sun, Yuma, Ariz.
YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. — Although there is nothing but a vacant lot there now, over the next year a facility is being constructed that, once completed, will allow military parachutists to realistically train for their free-fall operations.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the installation Wednesday morning for what will eventually be the world's largest vertical wind tunnel.
“In today's budgetary environment in the Department of Defense, there is very little construction going on,” said Col. Reed Young, Yuma Proving Ground commander. “A lot of those dollars have been moved to other priorities, so it's really pretty remarkable that we get to enjoy a new construction project here at all.”
The two-story tall vertical wind tunnel will be used by YPG's Military Freefall School to train elite paratroopers from all branches of the U.S. military. Its features include a flight chamber with all-glass walls at ground level and enough space to allow up to eight people to belly-fly at once.
“It's basically a 16-1/2 foot wind cone in the center that simulates falling at about 120 mph in free fall,” said Maj. Abraham Foster, commander of the Military Free Fall School. “The vertical wind tunnel is a free-fall simulator. In military free fall, half the time you spend in free fall, half the time you spend under the canopy of your parachute, so this simulates the actual portion of a free fall where you are flying your body to a desired point to open your canopy.”
Young added that the facility will also be state-of-the-art, utilizing the very latest in technology.
“It will certainly be the most modern in design,” Young said. “An example is in the noise. You can imagine a big fan blowing wind like that, not unlike a jet engine, could be extremely noisy. But due to the built-in design features this one, even standing tens of feet away from the building, you still won't hear much more than what you would hear from an air conditioning unit.”
Foster explained that the Military Freefall School is a joint forces training school that teaches military free-fall parachuting in three courses – basic, jumpmaster and advanced military free-fall. Students for the school, he added, come from every branch of the military and serve in elite organizations such as the U.S. Army Special Forces, and Rangers, Navy SEALs, Marine Force Reconnaissance, and Air Force Para-Rescue and Combat Controllers.
These courses, he said, teach students to use HALO (high altitude-low opening) and HAHO (high altitude-high opening) parachuting techniques and include platform, hands-on and actual parachute operations. As part of their training, students learn body stabilization while flying in the vertical wind tunnel at Fort Bragg, N.C. Once built though, that portion of the training can also be taught at YPG.
“That means the entirety of their free-fall course will be accomplished here at YPG,” Foster said.
Being able to complete every phase of the training at YPG will also save the military money, according to Foster. He said that not having to send its instructors and students to Fort Bragg to conduct this portion of the training will equate to about $1 million in savings.
The simulator is also expected to bring a lot of money into the community. Foster explained that since the facility is going to be an opening training venue, other units from around the western part of the country will be able to come to YPG to do their training as well.
Young said as the Department of Defense looks to restructure the Army in the near future, the more YPG, which is already the Army's premier testing facility, can do, the better shape it is in to avoid any type of possible downsizing or reorganization.
“Diversity is health. The more kinds of activities that we have going on here at YPG, beyond the testing, beyond the free-fall school, beyond the maintenance, beyond the facilities, the more we have going on here, the more diverse we are here, the healthier we are,” Young said. “The more dollars we bring into the community, the more people we can employ here, the better it is for us, the better it is for the community as a whole.”
Yuma's Pilkington Construction has been chosen to build the facility and is contractually obligated to complete the project in 18 months. Young said he is under the impression builders believe they can finish the project in about 12 months.