Construction of Wind Tunnel at YPG Going Vertical

2013-07-22 20:38:02

YUMA PROVING GROUND — Construction crews on Monday began the process of erecting the support walls for a new vertical wind tunnel being built at Yuma Proving Ground, which when completed will not only be the largest in the world, but will be used by the base’s Military Freefall School to train elite paratroopers from all branches of the U.S. military.

Leo Pilkington, president of Pilkington Construction Company, said crews will spend the next week using a 300-ton crawler crane to lift into place 16 concrete panels that will provide the structural support for the facility and direct the air flow into the flight chamber. The panels being put in place this week weigh a combined 1.6 million pounds.

“We have a tremendous facility being built by a great group of people from Yuma,” Pilkington said. “We are extremely excited about it. It’s a very big week for this project, to have this facility going up vertical, it is great to see this happen.”

While the facility still has significant work that will need to be done, Pilkington is confident it will be ready in time for its January 2014 opening. Work began back in December. Although originally budgeted as a $20 million project, it was later reduced to its current price tag of just over $10 million.

Once complete, Pilkington said this two-story parachute freefall simulator will stand 75 feet tall, with an additional 20 feet underground. Its 16-1/2 foot wind cone in the center will be able to accommodate up to eight fully-geared special ops personnel belly-flying at once.

Pilkington went on to say that the wind for the tunnel will be generated by four 500 horsepower turbine wind fans that will be located in the top of the facility and have a maximum speed of 170 mph. Other features include a 48-foot tall flight chamber with all-glass walls at ground level that can be sealed off to simulate nighttime jumping.

He explained that the wind generated inside the tunnel will suspend military parachutists in a vertical column of air, allowing them to practice maneuvering and steering their bodies while freefalling prior to deploying a parachute.

“It simulates falling,” Pilkington said. “The air going at 140 mph. lets them hover in place. They can take that air and make it go faster, which will raise them up. You can have people above people and you can get the wind going so full they can go head down.”

Ernesto Elias, project engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said while the cost to build the facility may seem high, in the long run it is expected to save the U.S. Army, thus the taxpayer, about $1 million yearly.

Elias explained that the wind tunnel at Fort Bragg, N.C., where a majority of parachute training occurs, is no longer operational. As a result, the Army is paying for training time commercially.

“I hear there is a facility over there where they are spending a $1,000 an hour to jump,” Elias said. “So look at those costs. It is costing the taxpayers way too much money.”

There is even talk of expansion. Elias also said the vertical wind tunnel could be the first of many buildings in what could someday be an entire complex dedicated to parachute training.

“When we are done here we are anticipating (seeing) more support structures being built here,” Elias said. “I can see this program is going to come here in full force. We welcome it and we are available to build anything they would like us to build.”

YPG is home to the Military Freefall School, which is a joint forces training school that teaches military free-fall parachuting in three courses – basic, jumpmaster and advanced military freefall. Student jumpers for the school 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 teach student jumpers 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, student jumpers learn body stabilization while flying in the vertical wind tunnel at Fort Bragg, N.C. Once built though, every part of the training can be taught at YPG.

The vertical wind tunnel could also be used by the Army’s Golden Knights parachute demonstration team, if they decide to return to the Yuma area for their annual training.