Deval Patrick allocates funding for creation of new UMass center in Chicopee

By Shelby Ashline

Collegian File Photo
Collegian File Photo

Former Gov. Deval Patrick announced in December he planned to allocate up to $5 million to the University of Massachusetts to support the creation of an Aeronautics Research, Development and Training Center at the Westover Airport in Chicopee.

The project is one of four initiatives outlined in the former governor’s new business plan, which focuses on growth opportunities at the airport.

Specifically, the plan aims to help “grow the economy in Western Massachusetts and to support the mission of Westover Air Reserve Base (ARB),” according to a Dec. 19 news release. The Westover ARB, the largest Air Force Reserve base in the country, is the joint user of the 91-acre public use airport.

The UMass Amherst Center in Chicopee is part of the Aviation/Aerospace Education Initiative outlined in the plan. Funds allocated for the project will be used to renovate a vacant Westover ARB building. According to the release, when the building is finished it will house “state-of-art” laboratories.

John Collura, associate dean for Research and Innovation at UMass’ College of Engineering, said the new aviation center will include a particularly noteworthy 360 degree air traffic control simulation that will be used to train air traffic controllers and pilots.

“There will be a 360 degree screen where you can see planes taking off,” Collura said in a recent phone interview. “You’ll be able to hear air traffic controllers.”

The 3-D simulation will also be able to produce different weather conditions.

“The aviation center will provide us with a more effective environment to teach students so they’re better prepared to enter the aviation workforce,” Collura said.

Collura explained that engineering students will have the option of using the Westover facility or staying on campus, where they will be able to view the simulation on computers. He said that all related classes will still be taught on campus.

Together, UMass and its industry partner M2C Aerospace, a Massachusetts based female-owned small business, will conduct research at the aviation center.

Additionally, UMass is in the process of partnering with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on several research projects. They hope to produce new technologies that will “promote efficiencies, safety and economic growth in aviation,” according to the press release.

“This partnership involving UMass Amherst, NASA and industry will address vital national needs in the aviation sector and help revitalize the Western Massachusetts economy (sic),” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in the news release. “This is a perfect match for our role as one of the country’s top research universities, applying our expertise to enhance the safety of air travel and foster economic opportunity.’”

According to Collura, the aviation center will operate “under the umbrella of the UMass Transportation Center.” Mike Knodler, director of the Transportation Center, said the addition of the new center also reflects recent efforts by the Transportation Center to become more “multi-modal.”

Knodler explained that in the past few years, the Transportation Center has broadened its area of research to include public transportation, biking, rail travel, etc. However, up until now, he said there hasn’t been much focus on air travel.

“We’re really excited about this new center and the opportunities that come with it,” Knodler said in a recent phone interview.

The addition of the aviation center will provide new opportunities for graduate students who intend to conduct research, as well as for undergraduates, who may see more aviation-related electives become available. Knodler said that there aren’t many aviation training centers in New England and that the new facility will help meet the demand.

According to Collura, one of the next steps is to secure additional research funding. He hopes that either NASA or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), or both, will contribute funding.

Knodler said that the design plans for the building renovation are nearly finished. Collura explained that they need to modernize it to accommodate the computer facilities.

Both Knodler and Collura expect that the aviation center will be operational sometime during  spring 2016.

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected]