UAV activity stirring at IYK

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

UAV activity stirring at IYKAs the countdown continues toward the FAA’s anticipated selection of national test sites for integrating unmanned aerial systems into national airspace, the effort to promote Inyokern Airport as a candidate for one of those sites has already attracted attention from industry players who have indicated an interest in setting up operations at IYK.

Cal UAS Portal Team Lead Eileen Shibley said FAA officials have confirmed that the final selection will be made by the end of the year. Of the original 50 efforts from 37 states that applied for test-site designation, the current FAA map lists only 25 sites in 24 states still in the running.

“We have received no word about where those cuts have been made, or why, but our encouragement comes from the people who have come forward telling us they want to bring their business to Inyokern. And we hear from those people all the time.”

Among the UAV firms who have scoped the local site is R-Cubed Technologies, based out of Maryland. R-Cubed has developed a module that empowers the next-generation technology for sense-and-avoid capability that will soon be required in all aircraft — both manned and unmanned.

While commercial aircraft are already required to have Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) sensors, many aircraft still rely on sight to avoid in-air collisions. RaNae Contarino of R Cubed Engineering said that nearly 90 percent of unmanned vehicles lack the new technology — a situation she likened to driving without headlights.

“Aviation professionals want to do the best they can. Flying is the same as driving — you want to have headlights on,” said Contarino. “But you are still sharing airspace with craft that emit no signal.”

So the FAA is working toward a deadline whenre by 2020, every vehicle in the air will be required to have the sensors that both emit and pick up those signals.

“When that happens you are going to see a quantum leap in safety.”

R-Cubed already works with China Lake, and Contarino said that her company is looking forward to expanding those operations to Inyokern.

“The real estate is obviously a huge draw, as is your proximity to restricted airspace,” said Ranae. “But you also have everything necessary to establish test scenarios. When you want to know how something works in the real world, you want to be dealing with wind, and changing temperatures and different elevations.”

As a gesture of that intent, R-Cubed left two of its onboard units with Inyokern. The devices can be fitted to UAVs being tested at IYK.

Both units are compatible with the ADS-B radar the airport recently acquired that is now the heart of IYK’s ground-control center.

“This really gives us an edge,” said Shibley. “You are not going to find a technological setup like this at most other small or rural airports.”

She noted that R-Cubed is one of three companies that have set up a presence at IYK as a result of the campaign to bring UAV work to the valley.

“We have another UAV developer who heard about what we are doing out here that yielded another great asset for us.” That developer called his bosses on the East Coast to report what was happening at Inyokern. The local manager called Inyokern the next day to report that he had been endowed with the funding and authority to build another sensor unit for IYK and set up a permanent residence at the airport.

“This has really been the primary objective all along — to bring compatible industry into the Indian Wells Valley,” said Shibley.

“We’ve already talked about the benefits of having access to China Lake’s restricted airspace. But there are other hard-to-define, but easy-to-see, benefits that come from tapping into and growing the current technological synergy of the base and the surrounding areas. When you have technology transfer between this many players, a lesson learned by one propels everyone forward.”

Shibley said that she anticipates an announcement for another significant gain for IYK by the end of July.

“We are just so excited about everything that has grown out of this effort. It has truly taken on a life of its own!”

Story First Published: 2013-06-26