Academy's wish list includes vertical wind tunnel

October 21, 2010

The latest big-ticket item on the Air Force Academy’s wish list: a multimillion dollar wind tunnel for the cadet skydiving team.

Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, the academy superintendent, wants the academy to join a handful of locations in the U.S. that boast an indoor skydiving facility capable of keeping several people aloft at once.

“We see all kinds of benefits — not just for our cadets, but for our special-operator friends over at Fort Carson,” he said, referring to airborne Green Berets in the 10th Special Forces Group.

Gould hyped the plans Thursday while reviewing an ambitious slate of improvements — both real and proposed — that he believes will inspire “fanatical pride” in the elite service academy.

He delivered his remarks at a Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Antlers Hilton downtown.

The Air Force Academy is in the midst of a 10-year, billion-dollar punch list of facility and infrastructure upgrades, including an ongoing overhaul of Vandenberg Hall, one of two cadet dormitories.

Not included in that price tag is a lengthy list of projects the academy wants to fund through private donations.

Earlier this month, builders broke ground on the $16 million Holaday Athletic Center, the academy’s first major building project funded entirely through donations, including a $5 million gift from Air Force Academy alumnus Bart Holaday and his late wife, Lynn.

The academy plans to begin work this spring on the $40 million Center for Character and Leadership Development – funded by a mix of tax dollars and $10 million in donations and pledges.

Gould also spoke of adding private viewing boxes at Falcon Stadium, a new museum and completing an overhaul of the planetarium, which was shuttered several years ago because of outdated technology.

The wind tunnel — with an approximate price tag of up to $9 million — would be used to train cadets in the Wings of Blue competitive skydiving team, which collected a first-place finish U.S. Parachute Association National Skydiving Championships in Ottawa, Ill., in September.

The academy’s skydivers travel to a recreational indoor facility in Denver for practice — taking up valuable time and money, Gould said.

The academy is investigating whether a donor-funded wind tunnel could be opened to the public for recreational use — for a fee, of course.

“I think there are even some commercial opportunities here where you can go out and use it like a merry-go-round,” Gould said.

Call the writer at 636-0366.

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