Col. Corey Simmons, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base, gave an update on the base during a talk Thursday at Enid Regional Development Alliance’s quarterly meeting.

Simmons discussed Vance’s relationship with Enid, ongoing developments at the base and future needs he hopes to see addressed.

Overall student production is up by 34 percent from fiscal year 2017 to 2021, Simmons said. In order to keep up with those figures, there’s work needed on the runways.

Work to the outside runway has been completed, and improvements to the inside runway are expected to wrap up by November, leaving it “ready to rock and roll for another 30 years.”

The center runway “is the one everyone is anxious about,” he said. This nearly 30-year-old section houses instrumentation necessary to fly in less than ideal weather conditions.

The question is if the infrastructure should be “renewed” or “replaced.” Option one would result in less downtime but potentially provide less of a long-term fix. The second choice would be more involved and take longer. Either way, pilot production numbers could take a hit while the runway is unavailable.

Completion is expected no earlier than late 2020.

In September, the Air Force announced it would be introducing a new trainer aircraft into the nation’s arsenal with the T-7A Red Hawk. The first Red Hawk jet comes off the line in 2023, Simmons said.

“We want Vance to be the second base to get this. We’re not going to be the first,” he said. Randolph Air Force Base in Texas most likely will be the first to receive the plane.

Still, Vance is well positioned to be an early adopter of the Red Hawk, which will replace the aging T-38 aircraft the base currently uses.

“Someone was thinking, because we don’t have to do any extra construction to make this happen,” he said. “We have put ourselves in a very good position to be competitive when this comes online.”

Another top priority for Simmons is improving enlisted living facilities.

“This is the one I have spent the most of my power, my voice in the Pentagon, is on trying to fix the enlisted dorm problem at Vance,” he said, adding the 1950s construction has rooms half the size of the modern standard. “I have a capacity problem and a quality-of-life problem.”

Whether the dorms were gutted and renovated, or new dorms were built, the cost would be more or less the same, he said. He suggested a public and private partnership could be the best means to get such a project carried out.

Though he has had plenty of local support, he’s not certain the dorm issue will be addressed.

“I’ll tell you, I don’t know that we’ll get it done, but it won’t be because we’re not kicking and screaming trying. Our airmen deserve this,” he said. “My last 9 months of my command tour is going to be as much about this as it is going to be about how many pilots can we produce.”

Story provided by Enid News & Eagle

Written by: Mitchell Willetts