United States Sen. Bob Corker visited the U.S. Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) in Coffee and Franklin counties Monday.
Of particular interest to the senator was the center's involvement in testing military jet engines under flight conditions using synthetic fuels. The Air Force is taking the lead to encourage development of production facilities for these fuels to reduce fuel cost and dependence on foreign oil supplies.
The senator took the opportunity to tour several facilities and was briefed by AEDC officials on the synthetic fuel testing as well as the center's aging infrastructure and the need for test facility upgrades and military construction needs to support future testing.
He was also briefed on the Common Battlefield Airmen Training (CBAT) program that Arnold is in the running to host.
After the tour, AEDC Commander Col. Art Huber introduced the senator at a reception in the Headquarters building with Arnold Community Council, University of Tennessee Space Institute Support Council members and local elected officials.
"We are thrilled to have Senator Corker here with us today," Colonel Huber said. "He graciously came by to get some current information about what's going on at Arnold."
The senator expressed several items of interest he wanted to explore during his visit to AEDC.
He first mentioned spending a lot of time with Air Force officials in Washington about their focus on maintenance and capital requirements.
"As you walk through this facility, which is a one-of-a-kind facility, there's obviously great need," he commented. "We look forward to working with Colonel Huber and the people who come after him to make sure this facility stays a first-class facility."
The senator also emphasized the importance of climate change and energy security.
"This facility is actually the only facility in the country where coal to liquid type-fuels can be tested in jet engines under flight conditions and be tested in ways that can be utilized throughout the Air Force.
"There is a technology," the senator continued, "called Fischer-Tropsch that this facility can test at high altitudes. If we are able to know that this type of synthetic fuel can work, it's again a step toward our country using alternative in ways that we haven't utilized in the past."
The senator said one of the first things he wants to do when he returns to Washington is make sure all the senators in states with large amounts of coal are familiar with what this facility means to the future of using coal in an environmentally-responsible way.
"Every time I am here I learn something new," he said. "I think the impact of the fuels initiative on me today is something I am going to take away from here. As a country we obviously want to balance our needs for the environment with the needs of making sure our energy is secure."
Senator Corker mentioned being at an awards presentation where AEDC was recognized for having the highest environmental standards, thus proving its worth to the country's future.
"Being in a facility that is represented in that way and carries out practices that certainly benefit every area of the Air Force and then knowing this facility has a lot to do with our country's future energy security is just good to know."
On the topic of CBAT, Senator Corker feels based on the facts he's been given Arnold Air Force Base is the ideal location.
"We want to make sure what happens is that the decision is based on facts," he said. "These facts are based on support from the community, the willingness of the Tennessee National Guard to work with this particular facility so the appropriate cross-training takes place and just everything that already exists here on the ground that doesn't have to be acquired or built."
He assured audience members that as soon as the new head of the Air Force gets settled he would be in his office in support of Arnold Air Force Base issues.