Missile and aviation testing will make history simultaneously at Redstone Arsenal this week.

Two Army organizations well-known for providing the best testing of weapon systems used in theater will merge on Thursday to become the Army's premier testing facility. The Redstone Technical Test Center and the Aviation Technical Test Center, formerly of Fort Rucker, will merge to become the Redstone Test Center at 10 a.m. Thursday in Bob Jones Auditorium. In addition, a groundbreaking for new RTC facilities will be held Friday at 10 a.m. at the Redstone Airfield.

Both RTTC and ATTC were formed in the 1950s, with RTTC charged with the testing of missile, aviation and sensor systems, subsystems and components while ATTC - in various organizational forms throughout the years - was charged with testing the airworthiness and safety qualifications of aircraft and related aviation equipment.

While the merger itself is big news, so, too, is the introduction of Col. Steven Kihara as the first commander of the new organization. Kihara is looking forward to working to bring the resources of RTTC under its first officer commander, moving the resources of ATTC to Redstone Arsenal and building the profile of RTC at Redstone Arsenal.

"Basically, our mission is the qualification of missile, sensor and aircraft subsystems and components, and full system components. That is not changing. What is changing is that we will be integrating two great organizations," said Kihara, who was most recently the commander of the Aviation Applied Technical Directorate at Fort Eustis, Va.

"Missile expertise has been here at Redstone Arsenal for a long time. Aviation testing has been done right at Fort Rucker. We are bringing these two components together in one platform to develop more effective weapon systems, decrease duplicative testing and provide full life cycle test capabilities for not only missiles but also aviation."

The new Redstone Test Center will further position Redstone Arsenal as the Army's leader in missile and aviation systems, and will bring missile, sensor and aviation testing capabilities closer to its customers - the Army Materiel Command, the Aviation and Missile Command, the program executive offices and others, said Byrd, who will be the new organization's technical director.

"This is about the co-location of the research and development community, the program management community and the test community. These are all different aspects in the acquisition of missile and aviation systems," he said. "We are bringing them together at one location so they can work together as a team and that's what Redstone Arsenal is all about."

The Thursday event will actually be three ceremonies in one, said Kelly Helser, director of plans and operations for RTTC.

"It will be the casing of colors for RTTC, the stand up of Redstone Test Center Provisional and the assumption of command by Col. Steven Kihara," he said.

The event will be hosted by Jim Johnson, previously director of RTTC and now the current director of the Developmental Test Command at Aberdeen, Md., which will be the command organization for RTC. Also in attendance will be Maj. Gen. Roger Nadeau, commander of the Army Test and Evaluation Command, Maj. Gen. Jim Myles, commander of the Aviation and Missile Command, and other high-ranking military officials.

While the 10 a.m. Thursday event is historic for many reasons, the groundbreaking on Friday is the event that will actually raise the profile of RTC on Redstone Arsenal. The event will officially begin the construction of RTC's Rotary Wing Center at the Redstone Airfield and the RTC headquarters on Martin Road. The groundbreaking of the $46.5 million project will be at the airfield next to the Redstone Flying Activity.

"The new hangar will be on the opposite side of the runway from our existing buildings," Helser said. "It will be a significantly larger hangar than anything we have out there now."

The two-story RTC headquarters will be built on Martin Road in front of the existing RTTC building 4500 and across the street from the new Army Materiel Command headquarters.

"This central location will work well for us," Helser said of the headquarters. "We will not just be missile and sensor testing or aviation testing. We will be an organization involved in a wide variety of testing and this more centralized location will represent that."

Several dignitaries from the Thursday ceremony will also participate in Friday's ground breaking, including Myles and Johnson. Garrison commander Col. Bob Pastorelli, whose organization oversees all construction projects on the Arsenal, will also participate.

Both events are a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations.

"It's about providing the right testing at the right time while also decreasing costs and providing a faster turn-around for our customer - the Soldier," Kihara said.

Yet, that doesn't mean the new RTC will not have to address some issues related to the merger. For that reason, the organization is considered "provisional" until October 2010.

"We've had two great organizations in existence for a long time doing a very good job," the colonel said. "We want to make sure we have the right footprint at Redstone Arsenal. We are going to take this year to refine our processes. It's a transitional phase that is a common way for the Army to stand up a command."

Much of the work that will done in the coming year is making sure the right employees are positioned to successfully continue the new organization's mission.

"Our people are the greatest asset we have," Kihara said. "We want to make sure we have the right folks doing the right jobs to maximize our effort. We are working to integrate all the pieces so we have the correct expertise and the mutual support to be effective and successful."

RTTC currently has about 700 employees. ATTC has about 400. They will come together to create a 1,100-member work force by the BRAC-mandated date of Sept. 15, 2011.

"We will be integrating at the same time that we are working our mission for our customers. That's our challenge - we must continue our testing mission while at the same time we are moving and standing up the organization," Kihara said.

The good news, he said, is that many of ATTC employees are looking forward to the move to Redstone Arsenal. About 100 of those employees are already relocated. "The current polling of our work force at Fort Rucker is that they are very, very excited to come here," Kihara said.

And he said the advance work that's been done by RTTC and ATTC officials to make the move successful has been phenomenal.