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Remote Pilot Aircraft Training Center Prepares Next Gen Flight Crews

Boots on the Ground, Eyes in the Sky: New RPA Training and Operations, Mark Zimmerman

Since the initial development and use of drones in the early 2000s, the Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA) program within the U.S. Air Force has grown rapidly. Today, the Air Force trains more RPA pilots than conventional pilots, generating a need for new training facilities. At Holloman Air Force Base (AFB) in New Mexico, Burns & McDonnell is designing a new 212,000-square-foot facility that will include administrative space, academic space, fixed ground control stations (FGCS), FGCS maintenance functions, training simulators and all secure spaces required to support the mission.

Formal training units (FTU) to support RPA pilots, sensor operators and operational staff present unique challenges in military facility design. The building is made up of two sensitive compartmented information facilities (SCIFs) — one on the first floor and one on the second floor. Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC-4-010-05) were followed to design these spaces. Such facilities require specialized physical and cybersecurity design as well as redundant communications, power and other technical requirements.

In addition to stringent SCIF design requirements, the design team must also address Air Force and Holloman AFB-specific requirements. Installation-specific requirements include general architecture of the building to blend in with the surrounding environment as well as local climate considerations.

Critical to building a sustainable, resilient facility is the ability to collaborate, facilitate and merge technical requirements with operational needs of multiple stakeholder groups. To meet these needs, our design team met with all stakeholder groups — including representatives from the manufacturers of flight training equipment and simulators, maintenance personnel, training leaders and base commanders — to integrate unique requirements into the facility.

Another key element of the design is to make much of the facility reconfigurable to accommodate future needs and updates to support evolving technology and mission requirements. Design philosophies included furnishings focused on value with ergonomic features; integrated technology; modular construction and finishes proven in longevity; and raised floor systems in critical areas.

The ability to develop a dedicated environment using simulators provides the Air Force with a cost-effective and secure means to train its growing force of RPA pilots, sensor operators and maintenance staff. The modular nature of the facility allows the new FTU to support evolving needs for the next 20 years as the RPA program grows in further support of U.S. national security.

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Mark Zimmerman
Written by Mark Zimmerman
Mark Zimmerman is Department of Defense project director for Burns & McDonnell. With nearly three decades of experience in the planning, design and delivery of new base developments and other military projects, he works to bring effective solutions to his clients.

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