The University of Massachusetts has completed the first steps to build an air traffic control tower simulator at Westover Air Reserve Base, which will allow its transportation center to expand its research and overall program.
A year ago, state officials pledged more than $7 million in state funding to be used to make improvements at Westover Air Base and grab the attention of the federal government to show the importance of the base in Massachusetts. The money comes from a $177 million bond bill that was designed by then Gov. Deval Patrick to stem defense cuts to Massachusetts bases.
The progress on the new air traffic control simulator comes at a time when eight of Westover’s 16 C-5 jets have been transferred to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, in Texas.
“We are very pleased with the way it is moving. We have met with state officials who are releasing the funding now,” said John Collura, professor of civil and environmental engineering who is heading up the project for the UMass Amherst Transportation Center.
The University of Massachusetts received a total of $5 million to renovate an about 27,000 square-foot building at Westover and will install a 360-degree simulator in it. The University will lease the building long-term from the base.
The center will be run in conjunction with M2C Aerospace Inc., of Millford and will be staffed by scientists from the agency and UMass Amherst faculty and students.
The hope is the simulator may also be used as a training facility for new air traffic controllers as well as research and support economic development at the base and the region.
The UMass Transportation Center has existed for at least 25 years and is involved in teaching as well research. It has had a driving simulator to replicate road conditions and a lot of its research has been focused on ground traffic.
“What is important to understand is aviation innovation exists on the Amherst campus but the research does not involve the use of a simulator,” Collura said. “Once it is complete we will be able to do research that we are unable to do now.”
Some of that research includes new ways of air traffic management, because the simulator will be able to replicate anything that happens in an air traffic control tower now, he said.
An engineering study was just completed to redesign the building for the about 7,000 square-foot, two story simulator. Officials will now use the study to create a full set of construction documents for the project, Collura said.
It should take about six months to finish the documents so the University should be able to go out to bid on the project some time this summer, he said.
At the same time, Chicopee officials are progressing on a project to demolish former military homes just outside Westover and replace them with a solar farm. The city received $1 million from the same funding for the project.
The city has gone out to bid to find a contractor to demolish the homes and will begin to search for a company to create and operate the field in the spring.
The solar field is expected to generate electricity to reduce Westover’s annual about $2 million electric bill by about 5 percent or $100,000 a year.