Gleason: UAV issue unites interests of East and West Kern

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Gleason: UAV issue unites interests of East and West KernWhile the possibility of a test site for unmanned aerial systems at Inyokern Airport has generated enthusiasm in those looking to grow jobs and expand synergy in defense and aerospace industries, Kern County 1st District Super-visor Mick Gleason sees that possibility as a common cause that will bond the historically divergent interests of East and West sides of Kern County.

“Over here in East Kern you have China Lake and the Mojave Air and Space Port,” said Gleason. “The issues we face are generally related to defense, or alternate energy or aerospace. In West Kern you have ag and oil.

“While I don’t think those interests are necessarily conflicting, in the past we have not really had a lot of common ground to unite both sides of our county — which is geographically one of the largest and most resource-rich in California.”

But research, development, testing and evaluation of UAV applications bring together the technological expertise of East Kern’s powerhouse of intellectual capital with the end user for those commercial applications, with agriculture topping that list.

According to a recent article by Sara Sorcher in Wired magazine, crop spraying is one of the areas of greatest potential in unmanned systems.

Sorcher relayed how 25 vineyard owners and farmers gathered to watch an unmanned helicopter lift off and spray 40 long rows of grapes, from two-gallon tanks mounted on either side of the fuselage, in less than six minutes. A tractor rigged to spew pesticide or fertilizer covers the same area in an hour.

While unmanned systems are typically associated with military applications or police surveillance, industry leads are predicting that the potential for commercial applications is about to mushroom.

Experts estimate that everything from postal delivery to disaster relief will, in the near future, be able to provide services affordably and efficiently through unmanned systems.

The current limitation to those expansions is not the viability of those operations, but the narrow restrictions currently imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

While military operations can leverage restricted airspace — such as that found above the Indian Wells Valley and surrounding area — the private sector is saddled with an onerous process that calls for device-specific permitting and limited testing.

Congress responded to industry’s call for more efficient process by directing FAA to establish test sites that will help form policies and procedures for integrating UAS into federal airspace.

Inyokern is the center of one of two California efforts to compete for an FAA test site.

But Gleason noted that even if Inyokern is not awarded one of those sites, he believes that Inyokern will play a role in shaping the future of UAS RDT&E.

Gleason was among the first elected leaders to officially endorse the Cal UAS Portal effort out of Inyokern, citing advantages from geographic and climatic diversity to access to restricted airspace to a culture of technological innovation as reasons to establish a test site at IYK.

“But right now what I’m really interested in bringing together all of Kern County’s resources to take an active role in this process. We have a great opportunity to unite some of the most entrepreneurial and technologically innovative minds in our country to contribute to this solution.

“Whether we see Inyokern named as an FAA test site or not, I know we have a role to play. It is just a matter of getting everyone to come to the table.”

Gleason said that he has already heard very promising feedback from countywide interests, including the other members of the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

Story First Published: 2013-04-24