Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Vance Air Force Base continued its record of being the most productive pilot training base in the Air Force in 2020, and it is moving forward by implementing new training processes and major upgrades to base infrastructure.

Col. Timothy Danielson, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing, commended the airmen of Team Vance for continuing to excel under less-than-favorable conditions in 2020.

“2020 brought many unexpected challenges to our nation and the world,” Danielson said. “I’m so proud of our airmen at Vance for not only continuing our mission essential work in the face of the pandemic but for being the highest producing base in AETC.”

Producing pilots

Since the first student reported to Vance in 1941, the base has trained almost 35,000 pilots, according to information provided by the Vance public affairs office.

Over the last year, the continuation of that legacy has netted Vance several Air Force-level accolades, including being the top pilot production base in the Air Force and Air Force Association Squadron of the Year, the Air Education and Training Command Spencer Innovation Award and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.

But Team Vance is not resting on its laurels. Moving forward in 2021, Vance is continuing a partnership with Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to execute Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5 — the latest rendition of the Air Force’s efforts to streamline training and increase pilot output.

The new training regimen “reimagines the training syllabus that has been utilized for over 50 years,” according to a statement provided by Vance, and has “crafted a student-centric learning experience centered around leveraging current technological advances.”

Virtual reality simulators, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, give students more training opportunities outside the cockpit, paired with flexible scheduling and more one-on-one time with instructor pilots and civilian simulator instructors.

“With all of the syllabus changes, new programs, and over 350,000 sorties flown, Vance Air Force Base has produced more pilots than any other UPT base over the past two years,” according to the provided statement.

Improving infrastructure

In addition to streamlining the training process and innovating new training techniques, Team Vance also is continuing efforts to upgrade and sustain base infrastructure — some of which has been around since the base was training pilots for World War II.

One of the high-priority projects is to replace all the water lines on the operations side of the base, most of which date from the base’s original construction in the 1940s. The base already has funded and completed a $460,000 chlorine booster system to improve water quality until the line replacement project can be completed.

Replacing lines and the base water tower will carry a price tag of about $16 million and should begin in fiscal year 2022. Upgrading water utilities comes shortly after the base invested $7 million to bury its electric transmission infrastructure, bolstering the base’s resilience to Oklahoma winters.

And, to continue meeting or exceeding the Air Force’s demand for new pilots, the center runway — the base’s longest — is in need of replacement.

That project, with a price tag of $55 million, is expected to start this summer and take one year to 18 months to complete. In an earlier interview with the News & Eagle, Danielson said Vance will rely heavily on the runway at Enid Woodring Regional Airport for training approaches and landings during the center runway replacement work.

Replacing the center runway will complete an overhaul of all three of the base’s runways in recent years. A $40 million refurbishment of the outside runway was completed in fiscal year 2019, along with a $7.8 million refurbishment of the inside runway and taxiway lighting at the start of fiscal year 2020.

Continuing to improve

Other projects still in the planning and funding discussion phase are replacing the base’s aging enlisted dorms and construction of a new, larger base operations space.

Initial planning numbers called for $75 million to fund a 164,000-square-foot operations complex.

Looking forward to the remainder of 2021, Danielson said Team Vance will continue to focus on executing the mission and upgrading Vance’s infrastructure for years to come.

“In 2021 we’re looking forward to fully implementing UPT 2.5,” Danielson said, “and will continue to advocate and prepare for major construction projects like the center runway replacement, enlisted dormitory replacement and a new consolidated operations center.”

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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