• 70°

Waiting to fly

The Selma times-journal

Sometime this fall, the U.S. Air Force is scheduled to make an announcement that could drastically change the future of one city.

Reportedly, the choice is down to Midland, Texas and Selma, though Air Force officials have refused to confirm that information.

The project, Air Force In-Flight Training or IFT, will give the winning city and its corporate partner the right to create an initial flight training program for potential Air Force pilots. Lockheed-Martin announced in January that they are partnering with Selma in an attempt to win the contract that would bring more than 300 jobs and 1,300 to 1,500 students a year to the area.

Since the list of bidders was reportedly cut to Midland and Selma, Air Force officials have declined comment, saying it is inappropriate to comment before the contract is awarded. Officials locally, as well as in Midland, have declined comment also.

Still, media reports from Midland to Montgomery have speculated on the future of the project.

Using the information that has been made available, The Times-Journal will present a three-part Sunday series looking at the project and the cities vying for it.

Dated November 21, 2003 the Air Force’s Performance Work Statement (PWS) for the IFT program outlines exactly what the Air Force expects out of the contractor that wins the bid for IFT.

The Air Force expects the contractor to provide:

Identical Aircraft capable of flying two-hour sorties with a 30 minute fuel reserve.

The aircraft must be FAA certified for normal category or higher.

It must be able to climb at 500 feet per minute with 450 pounds of aircrew and fuel.

Complete maintenance and inspection of the aircraft. The contractor will follow all aircraft manufacturer’s recommended procedures.

Free lodging and meal service to the students. Also the contractors will provide janitors, maintenance and security. They must provide aesthetically pleasing, sanitary, rodent and insect free facilities

Transportation for the students between the training location and the nearest point of airline service, in Selma’s case Montgomery. It also must provide a means to transport students between the training center, lodging facility, dining facility and fitness center if those facilities are not within reasonable walking distance.

Insurance.

The contractor or any subcontractor must maintain at all times Aircraft Public Liability Insurance.

The capability to conduct a minimum of 37,500 hours of flight training for 1,500 pilot/CSO candidates annually.

All services necessary to conduct Air Force flight training.

The government will not exercise any direct supervision over contractor employees performing services under this contract, except in the case of an emergency.

Still those expectations could change.

Essentially the program is just as it’s named, an introduction to flight training. The facility will be responsible for weeding out the first level of potential pilots.

Winning over the community will also be part of the contractor’s duties.

The contractor will not be required to provide all services.

The government will provide up to 10 military flight instructors for the contractor.

The government will provide all students with a flight physical

The government will furnish Air Force publications.

The government will provide public affairs support to the contractor’s public relations staff.

The IFT bids are the latest attempt to fix a program that has seen rapid change.

Originally, the IFT used high-performance training planes called Fireflies in an attempt to identify those best suited to flying high-performance military planes. However, several crashes killed some academy cadets and their instructors, until the Air Force grounded the Fireflies in 1997.

According to published reports, in 1999, the Air Force switched to civilian flight schools around the country. That system will be in use until the new IFT project is launched.

According to Lockheed officials, the Air Force decided that it needed more of a military environment for the pilots and began accepting bids for a civilian contractor to provide it in a single location.

Lockheed Martin is the nation’s largest defense contractor.

The response in Selma has been overwhelming, according to both local Economic Development and Lockheed officials. The idea of Air Force pilots returning to Craig seems to have captured the city’s collective imagination.

Once home to the 29th Flying Training Wing – whose mission was pilot training in the Air Force – Craig Air Force Base was originally established as an Army Air Corps base in 1941 and trained pilots for duty in World War II. It was closed in 1978, leaving a gaping hole in the region’s economy, according to several public officials.

At the time, Probate Judge Johnny Jones said the impact of the program would be far-reaching.

Sanders agreed, saying that the project would be uplifting for all of the Black Belt.

The contract was originally scheduled to be awarded in May, but it has been pushed back to October or possibly November.

However, officials have said delays are not an uncommon part of the process as the Air Force and potential contractors trade questions and answers as they try to prepare the best offer possible for both sides.

When the announcement came in January, Sanders said the waiting might be the hardest part.