Vance Air Force Base has opened a new, temporary operations building to house the 33rd Flying Training Squadron and give the base more room to meet its mandate to increase pilot output.
In the midst of an Air Force-wide pilot shortage, the 71st Flying Training Wing has been tasked with increasing its pilot output by another 34 percent in 2019. The base is expected to produce 420 pilots this year, compared to 326 last year, according to figures provided by Wing Commander Col. Corey Simmons in January.
Increasing pilot output has meant more instructors and student pilots in the pipeline at any given time. And, it’s meant squeezing three training squadrons into 1960s-era operations buildings meant to house two squadrons at a lower rate of pilot output.
The 33rd FTS, a T-6 Texan squadron, has been housed alongside the 25th FTS, the base’s T-38 Talon squadron, in one of two flight operations buildings. The two buildings — the second of which houses the 8th FTS — have, combined, about 51,000 square feet of space.
Donita Hazlett, base civil engineer, said the cramped conditions led to efforts last year to identify a suitable temporary building solution.
“Because they were jammed into not enough space, and the increase in pilot production, the idea was to give them more space,” Hazlett said, “and that was the genesis of the idea for the temporary building.”
The answer came last September, in a $1.6 million lease from Ramtech Building Systems of Mansfield, Texas for a 16,000 square-foot modular building and all the furnishings necessary to move the 33rd FTS into a new, temporary home.
Hazlett said that, by regulations, they can only keep the temporary building in place for five years or less, and plans are to have a permanent building in place before then. The 33rd FTS moved into the temporary building on June 6.
“Other than the appearance outside, once you walk inside, you’d be hard-pressed to say it is a temporary building,” Hazlett said.
Maj. Chris Wiedenmann, operations officer for the 33rd FTS, said the squadron was able to move from its old space in the 25th FTS building into the new building in one week, and did not lose any flying time during the transition.
The extra space already has enabled the 33rd FTS to expand its operations. Its four training flights soon will add a fifth, thanks to the extra space, and 12 new virtual reality (VR) simulators are being added, which will double the number of VR simulators available for the wing’s training squadrons.
Dennis Burnett, director of facility operations, said the modular building is meant to hold the 33rd FTS over until the base can secure funding to build a permanent military construction, or “mil con,” operations building.
The permanent building, when built, is expected to be 250,000 square feet, and will house all five training squadrons, base life support, base operations, and the student squadron, with an auditorium large enough to handle student graduations, flight kitchen, fitness center and storm shelter.
A price is not yet available for that permanent building, but Burnett said the temporary structure “will hold us over until we can get a mil con building.”