YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. – On an atypically cloudy Arizona day, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District participated in a dedication ceremony for the Master Sgt. George A. Bannar Vertical Wind Tunnel facility held on Yuma Proving Ground Jan. 24.
The facility is named for Bannar, a member of the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), killed in action in Afghanistan in 2013. Bannar's wife, Michelle, and his mother, Sheila Long, were the guests of honor at the dedication ceremony. Other dignitaries at the ceremony included state and federal legislators, community leaders and senior Army officers from around the country.
“It is very hard to describe,” said Bannar about being present for the dedication ceremony for the facility bearing her husband’s name. “Sometimes there are no words when it’s so emotional and heartfelt. It’s a complete honor, truly.”
The District constructed the $10 million facility to help train parachutists in the U.S. Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, as well as parachutists from around the world. The facility houses wind turbines capable of generating up to 2,000 horsepower. This translates into wind speeds of up to 170 mph when the facility is running on full. The “fly chamber” for the simulator facility rises 48 feet above the ground and can allow up to eight fully-loaded Soldiers, Sailors, Marines or Airmen to practice their skydiving techniques.
The project began in 2012 with a contract awarded in June and construction beginning in August of that year. The completed project includes a vertical wind tunnel and associated facilities, including an administrative office, flight chamber with control room, staging and training areas, an observation area, and equipment storage rooms.
According to Ernesto Elias, the District’s project engineer, the facility is a direct fulfillment of one of the principle tenets of Los Angeles District’s Mission Statement - “Designing and managing the construction of military facilities for the Army and Air Force [Military Construction].” He said the District’s Roadrunner Resident Office contributed a significant amount of support to the mission. Elias said he could not have completed the project without their assistance and sustained collaboration. He said the project is important to the community and, as a native of Yuma, the project was especially important to him.
“It gives me great honor to work with awesome teams out of Fort Bragg and Yuma Proving Ground, and in particular, the [Military Freefall School] and [Department of Public Works],” Elias said. “Additionally, Pilkington Commercial Co. and all of their subcontractors did a great job designing and executing the construction of the freefall simulator facility. This project remained mission strong throughout the planning and construction period all the way to completion.”
Col. Anthony C. Dill, the U.S. Army JFKSWC&S chief of staff, said his command is the Department of Defense’s proponent for freefall facilities in the military. The school and center oversees freefall training for Navy SEALs, the Air Force Special Operations Command, the Marine Special Operations Command and the U.S. Army Special Forces. In 1994, the Military Freefall School moved from Fort Bragg, N.C., the home of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, to Yuma Proving Ground. Dill said the move to Yuma served several purposes, key among them was the use of dedicated jump zones and aircraft to ensure students received adequate training time in the air.
“The wind tunnel at Fort Bragg, which is more than 30 years old and in disrepair, has been used in the interim for preliminary training,” he explained. “The new freefall simulator at Yuma consolidates all phases of training at one location. Additionally, the new state-of-the-art facility at Yuma operates at a great cost savings to the command, while increasing student safety and training and improving the pass rate of students in the course by utilizing the facility to recycle students who are having difficulty with the physical concepts of free fall.”
U.S. Navy Chief Parachute Rigger Justin Hodge, MFFS instructor and assistant wind tunnel manager, said the new facility will host more than 1,500 students annually and will greatly enhance his command’s mission.
“Normally, a jump would take six - eight hours,” Hodge said. “We have to do equipment checks, safety briefs, gear preparation and then flight time. Here, we go from zero to ‘flight’ in about half an hour. There’s no fear of jumping out of a plane for those who have never done it before. We’re able to work on the meat and potatoes of our job, which is the body in flight.”
Leo Pilkington, President of Pilkington Commercial Co., Inc., the District’s contractor on the project, said this type of facility is not one that is built everyday. So, there were some interesting challenges.
“Getting the project initially procured was quite difficult, [since] the budget was quite low and getting all the required components and systems was paramount,” he said. “We had to get very inventive with our design and submissions to get to the budget allowed.”
Pilkington said some of those costs savings included removing the elevator and putting in concrete steps and ramps and taking out interior finishes, such as carpeting and acoustical ceilings. He said most of the items removed were later added to the project because of the efficiency of the workflow, keeping the project within budget.
"I am very pleased and proud of the project,” Pilkington said. “It was the type of building that just does not get built every day. And, to do so with it being the largest of its type and getting it done to help the defense of our nation is very gratifying. Working with SkyVenture, the provider of the wind tunnel’s major components, was second to none. They understood the needs and requirements of the project and were great to work with, from design through final flight testing.”
Elias said the partnership among the various units was well established early into the contract period. He said each member of the team worked well together and extended high praise to go out to PCC and all of its subcontractors for a job well completed.
“Partnering between all parties was outstanding and is the reason why we completed [this project] on time and [within] budget,” Elias said. “Working on such a high profile project is also rewarding and exciting, especially knowing that we are building the facility for the military’s best freefall team members.”
The plaque dedicating the new facility reads
“MSG George A. Bannar
BORN OCTOBER 29, 1975 –KIA AUGUST 20, 2013
MSG Bannar was the Operations Sergeant of ODA 3334, C Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) and deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He was fatally wounded while conducting combat operations when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire in Wardak Province, Afghanistan.
MSG Bannar served the Special Forces Regiment with distinction for ten years. His unparalleled leadership, devotion to duty, and technical expertise directly influenced both the U.S. Army Special Forces and the more than 2400 service members that he trained while serving as the NCOIC of the Military Free Fall Parachutist Course as a member of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group.
MSG Bannar loved his wife, country, his brothers in arms, and life.”
Dill said he is confident the new construction will serve generations of military members to come.
“The new vertical wind tunnel will ensure that not only the U.S. Army Green Berets, but also their special operations brethren, are ready to conduct high-risk freefall insertion at a moment’s notice in defense of our country,” he said.
Bannar said she wished her husband could be present to be a part of the training at the new facility. But, she is confident he now knows how much his work, his effort and his sacrifice means to his brothers in arms.
“This is him and he would love to be here showing everyone around,” she said. “I wish he could do that physically. I know he’s here in spirit. He’s a humble man. He’s a very unique, incredible person and hero; and, I will always say, ‘George, my darling husband, you now know how much you’re loved.’”