McCarthy glimpses activity at IYK

Congressman lauds work on UAV solution, progress of record-breaking entrepreneur

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

McCarthy glimpses activity at IYK“I was blown away by what I saw going on out at Inyokern,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy told the News Review about his tour of Inyokern Airport during his trip to Ridgecrest earlier this week.

The congressman heard a briefing on the CalUAS portal effort — a regional solution being proposed by the IYK team in response to a congressional directive to identify sites for testing unmanned systems — and met a young entrepreneur who has moved his own operations in UAV development out to IYK.

Airport Board President Mark Backes also described to McCarthy the expansion plans for IYK — which have already seen extensive upgrades to infrastructure and facilities at the airport. Backes outlined the critical role IYK played in the history of the Indian Wells Valley in helping to attract China Lake in the 1940s and said the airport’s civilian support of the Navy’s technical mission will continue to play a role in forging our future.

McCarthy and his colleagues, in response to pressure from the private UAV developers, passed two pieces of legislation last December which prompt the FAA to find locations that can serve as research and development centers to create the regulation that will assimilate drones into federal airspace. (With no fixed regulation in place, manufacturers of commercial UAVs currently have to go through a tedious permitting process for each vehicle.)

An airport board committee, headed up by Eileen Shibley of the China Lake Alliance, has been working for eight months to partner with military, industry and political interests across the state to promote the CalUAS portal — which incorporates IYK and the protected R-2508 airspace that surrounds it.

“The Indian Wells Valley and the 2508 airspace are the ideal place for this,” said McCarthy. “Especially when you consider our long history of UAV work, research and development and the region’s contributions to the aerospace industry.”

“We have had tremendous support from virtually everyone we’ve approached to partner with us,” said Shibley. “If these sites are chosen based on merit, we think this is a shoo-in.”

She said that the diversity of climates and terrains, the protected airspace, the proximity to a culture steeped in technology, the existing infrastructure and the autonomy afforded by a rural environment with room to grow offer a perfect place to meet all the objectives of the FAA test sites.

“One of the interesting things about this process has been that we’ve already attracted developers who want to move their operations here,” said Shibley.

And one of them already has.

Last summer Chip Yates, who brings a technological background as well as a record of high-risk achievement, moved into Hangar 3 at IYK to develop a his all-electric aircraft and lithium battery technology. Just days after receiving his pilot’s license, and on only the second flight in a converted Long EZ, he broke the existing world record for speed in an electronic aircraft.

Propelled by the victory of his landmark flight, Yates is now in the process of gathering investors for Yates Electrospace Corporation. He is partnering with China Lake resources to develop a system that allows drone technology to recharge a UAVs batteries in flight to enable persistent flight in a high-performance electrical unmanned system.

A longterm goal in that endeavor is to develop the first electronically powered aircraft to recreate the historic 3,600-mile transatlantic Lindberg route.

Yates was honored by Sacramento legislators in August for his achievement and has found bipartisan support for his endeavor to further green technology while creating new jobs in California.

“I think this is an issue where key liberals and conservatives found common ground that they didn’t have before,” said Yates.

“People understand that we need to become energy independent as a country for economic and security reasons. This is not just a deep research and development project that may or may not succeed — this is a technology we have proven to be executable. We can harness green energy and immediately create jobs with what we have.”

Yates said his team has already identified applications for his technology, including infrared signature suppression for infinite-range electric vehicles. This capability was discovered when China Lake range operators, while tracking Yates’ 202-mile-perh-hour record-breaking flight, had trouble locking onto the craft’s extremely low-heat signature. With only a few modifications, that signature can be rendered virtually invisible to infrared sensors, making aircraft difficult to shoot down.

“This is a testament to the kind of synergy you create when you have the right people in the right environment,” said Shibley.

“You can’t plan for this kind of growth and these kinds of advancements — you just have to seize the opportunities when they come about. I think the prospect of a statewide center for UAV excellence is just such an opportunity.”

Story First Published: 2012-10-24