New Vertical Wind Tunnel Dedicated at Yuma Proving Ground

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2014 10:30 pm | Updated: 1:48 pm, Mon Jan 27, 2014.

By James Gilbert, Yuma Sun Staff Writer

YUMA PROVING GROUND — The U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS) held a dedication ceremony on Friday to officially announce the opening of a newly-built vertical wind tunnel that bears the name of one of its instructors who was recently killed in action in Afghanistan.

Named after Master Sgt. George Bannar Jr., who served as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the YPG-based Military Freefall School from 2009 to 2012, the state-of-the-art facility will be used to teach elite paratroopers from every branch of the military free-fall parachuting techniques.

“For the foreseeable future, our nation will ask extraordinary things of our special operators. The training they receive here at the Master Sgt. George Bannar Vertical Wind Tunnel will ensure they are ready,” said Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. “I can think of no finer memorial to a warrior like him than one that impacts every special operator who comes after him.”

Bannar’s wife, Michelle, and his mother, Sheila Long, were among the Army brass, state and federal legislators, community leaders, and fellow paratroopers who attended the ceremony.

“Master Sgt. George Bannar, his service, his sacrifice, his legacy, exemplifies the very best of what makes our country great,” Cleveland said. “He was clearly a man of extraordinary talents. Even among his own special forces brothers he was a standout.”

Construction on the vertical wind tunnel began on Dec. 12, 2012, and cost nearly $10 million. At 75 feet tall, the free-fall simulator is the largest in the world, with an additional 20 feet underground. Its 16 1/2-foot-wide and 48-foot-tall flight chamber is able to accommodate up to eight fully-geared special ops personnel at once.

Wind for the tunnel is generated by four 500-horsepower turbine wind fans that have a maximum speed of 170 mph. The flight chamber, with all-glass walls at ground level, can also be sealed off to simulate nighttime jumping. It has the capacity to train more than 1,500 students and visiting parachutists a year.

Col. Miguel Correa, commander of the 1st Special Warfare Training Group, explained 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 in simulated free fall.

“This is the best simulator, other than jumping out of an aircraft, of the winds and being able to stay relative to other people and being able to stay safe in the air,” Correa said. “This facility will improve our capability to gain access to denied or nonpermissive areas.”

Correa also spoke about the safety the wind tunnel provides while training. Despite wind speeds ranging from 120 to 170 miles per hour, he said there is very little chance of a parachutist getting seriously injured or killed.

The facility, Correa said, will also save taxpayers money in that the military won’t have to spend as much time and money jumping out of aircraft.

Lt. Gen. Cleveland in addressing those in attendance said that as Special Operations Forces are continued to be restructured over the years to address the changing nature of modern threats, a big part of that will be happening at the Master Sgt. George Bannar Vertical Wind Tunnel.

“As in the case with all our teachers, their legacy lives on in their students as they go on to become teachers,” Cleveland said. “The men who George taught now stand on the line of departure in transforming Army special forces.”

To meet those modern threats, Cleveland said, special forces teams must have the widest range of infiltration means, and to do that, they have to get where they need to be, which is why the vertical wind tunnel and Military Freefall School are so critical.

As part of the official ceremony, other activities were held throughout the morning for those in attendance. One demonstration, which was held at YPG’s Phillips Drop Zone, featured several parachutists from the Military Freefall School making jumps demonstrating the type of maneuvers they use as well as the types of parachutes.

Afterwards, attendees were taken to the building that houses the free fall school, where they were given an overview of the types of training that happens there throughout the year. One of the instructors even talked about the free-fall techniques he used while deployed to Iraq in 2007.

The last activities included the unveiling of a memorial stone in honor of Bannar outside the building and instructors using the flight chamber to demonstrate the types of training student jumpers are put through.

Pilkington Construction Company was awarded the contract to build the Master Sgt. George Bannar Jr. Vertical Wind Tunnel, and incidentally, recently-elected Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls was the civil engineer.

Student jumpers for the Military Freefall School come from every branch of the military and serve in elite organizations such as the Army Special Forces and Rangers, Navy SEALs, Marine Force Reconnaissance, and Air Force Pararescue and Combat Controllers.

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