Saturday, March 05, 2016

New Vance Air Force Base air traffic control tower named for Inhofe

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe addresses the audience during a dedication ceremony for the new air traffic control tower at Vance Air Force Base on Friday,  March 4, 2016.

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe stands next to a plaque bearing his name after a dedication ceremony for the new air traffic control tower at Vance Air Force Base on Friday, March 4, 2016.

The new control tower at Vance Air Force Base now bears the name of the senator who spearheaded the effort to fund the project back in 2009.

The tower, completed late in 2015, officially was dedicated during a ceremony Friday morning and named the Inhofe Air Traffic Control Tower, after Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, who was largely responsible for securing the tower's funding.

Inhofe was on hand Friday and spoke of the process of inserting funding for Vance's tower into the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act in 2009.

At that time, Inhofe said, two of the state's Air Force bases had aging control towers that needed to be replaced. Vance's old tower was completed in 1972.

"They were both old enough that it was life-threatening," said Inhofe. "Our effort was to get them both authorized."

At about that time, Inhofe's Republican colleagues in the House voted to put a moratorium on "earmarks," projects senators and representatives regularly inserted into appropriations bills to specifically benefit their districts.

"The Republicans in the House of Representatives did one of the dumbest things they've ever done," said Inhofe of the moratorium. "Just a matter of hours before they did that, we were able to get this thing authorized. But we couldn't do it for Tinker, Tinker still doesn't have a tower, and we're dedicating this one today. You got in just under the wire, and I'm very proud that we were able to get that done."

Also getting in just under the wire was Pentagon approval to name the tower for Inhofe. That wasn't received by Vance officials until Thursday morning.

Construction of the tower began in 2012, three years after the funding was secured. The facility wasn't officially turned over to the Air Force until the fall of 2015, and controllers began working in the tower in December. But while the tower may have been overdue, it was also under budget. The final cost of the tower was more than $9.5 million, said Col. Fred Cunningham, 71st Flying Training Wing vice commander, but that was $1.1 million under budget.

The new tower is 32 feet taller than the old one, with the cab floor now standing 95 feet off the ground as compared to 63 for the old tower, and is larger, spanning 6,665 square feet as compared to 2,294 for the former facility. Besides controlling more than 53,000 training sorties annually that result in more than 300 pilots receiving their wings, Vance also trains air traffic controllers to deploy around the world. Vance air traffic control leads Air Education and Training Command in upgrading air traffic controllers to meet FAA certification requirements, Cunningham said. Vance air traffic controllers complete more than 250 position certifications every year and produce some 30 fully qualified Air Force air traffic controllers.

"From a flight and ground safety perspective," Cunningham said, "this (the new tower) is absolutely invaluable."

Inhofe said Vance's new tower not only enhances the base's flying training mission, but also helps to ensure its future.

"Every time you put something new on Vance, that ensures its longevity," said Inhofe. "The most visible sign of improvements and of longevity is what we're dedicating today. It's a very proud day for all of Enid, all of Vance and wonderful things are going to come of it in the future."

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