IYK hopes to expand operations

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

IYK hopes to expand operationsWhile China Lake has played the leading role in the IWV economy for decades, a rising star on that landscape is the very asset that helped bring the naval base to the community.

According to local historians, when Dr. Charles C. Lauritsen of the California Institute of Technol-ogy saw an airstrip on the west side of the valley, that prompted him to recommend the area as having the right balance of remoteness and infrastructure necessary to support the World War II Navy-Caltech rocket program.

In 2012 Inyokern Airport be-came a prominent candidate for potential growth when it entered the highly competitive field as a dark-horse contender for an un-manned aerial vehicle test site. Congress tasked the FAA with identifying six sites to conduct research and development for incorporating drones into federal airspace.

The China Lake Alliance examined the local airports to see if there was a cause worth championing, and found that the same things that drew Caltech and the Navy to IYK still hold today. More, the presence of the base has placed the airport squarely in the center of the largest military restricted airspace in the contiguous United States, not to mention some of the brightest minds forging UAV development.

The Inyokern Airport Board took up the cause and has won support of industry and military interests across central California to form the Cal UAS Portal — an area of operations that incorporates mountain, desert and maritime environments in virtually every climate and population density.

Earlier this year members of the airport board praised current manager Scott Seymour for, during the last several years, making IYK a popular test and evaluation site for domestic and allied military units.

With the decrease of Navy travel cutting significantly into the airport’s FAA entitlements, Seymour said he is looking to expand those operations.

And according to members of the Cal UAS team, several companies have indicated an interest in using the site.

One of those, Chip Yates, has spent the last several months working on his record-breaking battery-powered (and nearly stealth) aircraft, and continues to base operations for his batter-powered drone technology out of IYK.

Seymour said that private investors have also been considering expanding hangar space at the airport, and he and the board are pursuing a project that will incorporate a hotel, strip mall and office space for future expansion.

During the last part of 2012, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, state Sen. Jean Fuller and Assemblywoman Shannon Grove each toured the facility to get up-to-date information on current endeavors to bring additional industry to IYK.

All three have voiced an interest in seeing an FAA test site come to their districts (all of which overlap and include IYK and the East Kern corridor).

“The tour was such a pleasure, because I got to see the rich history of IYK, and how that innovation can play a role in future developments,” said Fuller, who toured the facility in December.

“During my visit we also brainstormed about what possible strategies we could use to help them reach their ambitious goals. I was really impressed with the level of commitment and expertise possessed by everyone involved in the project.”

Fuller added that the unique synergy being born between private and public entities through these endeavors can yield tremendous benefits not only for industry, but for the community that hosts them.

“This is one case where remoteness is actually an asset. There is no other place you can go and have that airspace, be adjacent to a facility like China Lake, and have a community full of retired PhDs who are all excited about the future of flight capabilities.

“This is very promising.”

Story First Published: 2013-01-02