Vance Air Force Base continues infrastructure, technology upgrades
By JAMES NEAL | Enid News & Eagle | Published: March 3, 2019
VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (Tribune News Service) — Six months into the 2019 federal fiscal year, Vance Air Force Base is building on a number of recently completed and soon-to-be implemented infrastructure and technology projects.
Col. Corey Simmons, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing, briefed members of the Enid community, along with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and state legislators in January on infrastructure projects at the base.
All three of the base’s runways have scheduled work within the next two years. The outside runway, which was resurfaced between May 2016 and June 2017 at a cost of more than $40 million, is expected to have cracks repaired under warranty in the spring. Then, this fall, the inside runway — the primary T-6 runway — is scheduled for threshold replacements and lighting upgrades at an estimated cost of $7 million.
The center runway is scheduled for a total resurfacing no earlier than summer of 2020. A cost has not yet been estimated for that project.
Increased space for operations also is forthcoming in an 11,000-square-foot modular facility that will be leased and placed next to the current operations building. Simmons said the modular building will remain in place until a permanent, 164,000-square-foot expanded operations building can be constructed. There’s no timeline for that permanent building, but Simmons said it’s expected to cost approximately $75 million.
Simmons said he’s exploring options for a commercially built and privatized option to replace the current enlisted dorms, which were constructed in the 1950s and house 100 airmen, but that option still is in the initial feasibility study. He said the current dorms have cost the base $6.8 million in repairs and overhead since 2010.
Renovations to the Medical Group are ongoing, at an estimated cost of $14 million, and a $3.5 million renovation to the base’s Cherokee Lodge is complete.
This spring a $7 million project is scheduled to move the base’s power lines underground. The project is slated to be complete by the end of 2020.
Col. Yancey Cowen, Mission Support Group Commander at Vance, said the infrastructure upgrades are crucial to the wing’s continued operational success — especially as operations ramp up to meet an Air Force-wide pilot shortage.
“We’re excited to continue implementing infrastructure upgrades across Vance,” Cowen said. “Executing our primary mission is definitely a challenge when the building blocks supporting UPT begin to degrade. Improvements like burying the base’s power lines and our scheduled runway upgrades help us continue to produce not only the nation’s finest aviators but also the world-class support agencies that ensure we’re meeting the DoD’s strategic mission.”
In addition to the infrastructure upgrades, Team Vance also has been working over the last year to use commercially-available technology to streamline training at the base.
Major Kinsley Jordan, 71st Flying Training Wing Chief of Innovation, told the News & Eagle Feb. 15 that process has been facilitated through Spark Cell — groups meant to foster innovation at all levels of the chain of command — in the 71st Flying Training Wing’s Mission Support Group, Medical Group and Operations Group.
Innovation funds provided by AETC have helped start 18 innovation projects from Spark Cell ideas over the last year, Jordan said.
Three significant innovations pioneered at Vance over the last year are the use of virtual reality simulators, putting cockpit charts and publications on iPads and providing airmen 24-hour access to academic lessons on iPads.
As part of AETC’s Pilot Training Next initiative to streamline undergraduate pilot training, Jordan said Vance implemented the use of 16 commercial virtual reality (VR) simulators to provide extra instruction time for students who need help mastering a specific skill.
VR simulators are set up for T-6 and T-38 simulations, and each VR flight is accompanied by a live air traffic controller who gives students real-world control and offers feedback to instructors on any concerns.
Jordan said VR simulators allow student pilots to “capitalize on opportunities for more stick time on the ground” and enhance their overall training without reducing time in the cockpit or traditional simulators.
From conception to implementation, the VR simulator project took less than five months — a testament, Jordan said, to the wing’s and AETC’s commitment to innovation and use of commercial off-the-shelf technology.
Implementation of an “electronic flight bag” program that loaded paper cockpit publications onto iPads also has been expanded in recent months to provide video recorded academic lessons, training tools and 360-degree VR training videos on the iPads to all students.
That project was started in August and rolled out to all instructor pilots and students at the base on Jan. 2, Jordan said.
“We can give students everything they need, at their hands all the time,” Jordan said.
The project doesn’t replace classroom instruction but enables students to view academic lessons before coming to the classroom, Jordan said, so when they’re in front of a live instructor they can ask “graduate-level questions” instead of it being “first exposure instruction.”
“Our goal was to get that instruction into the students’ hands beforehand,” Jordan said, “so when they have face-to-face time with the instructor, they’re asking the important questions about the information they’ve already learned.”
Jordan said the ultimate goal of the program is to send electronic links for all training material to prospective student pilots before they even show up to Vance, so they can get a jump on training while waiting for their start date.
Spark Cell efforts also are underway at other AETC bases. Jordan said he and other AETC command heads of innovation communicate and meet to share ideas from their respective bases and prevent duplicated efforts.
Spark Cell, a product of the Air Force’s AFWERX program, was established in 2017 by the Secretary of the Air Force and reporting to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force to be “a catalyst for agile Air Force engagement across industry, academia and non-traditional contributors to create transformative opportunities and foster an Air Force culture of innovation,” according to an Air Force press release.
According to information form the Air Force’s AFWERX website, the process is meant to “foster intrapreneurship” — having entrepreneurial spirit within the framework of a larger organization.
“AFWERX has tools to empower Airmen intrapreneurs to identify opportunities for leveraging new technologies or commercial best practices, find new efficiencies in policy and processes, and improving Air Force culture,” according to the AFWERX website.
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