’Dronefather’ visits Cal UAS

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

’Dronefather’ visits Cal UASThe man credited with pioneering the modern unmanned aerial vehicle visited the Cal UAS Portal at Inyokern Airport, which team lead Eileen Shibley called a validation of local efforts to advance unmanned systems technology.

“This is probably the most revered man in the UAV community,” said Shibley. “We were so fortunate to have him come and look at our operation, and we were excited to be able to show him we had one of the drones he invented on site!”

Abraham Karem’s personal history reflects that of many innovators who have dedicated passion and technical expertise to the development of a burgeoning industry.

Born in Baghdad to a Jewish merchant, he moved with his family to Israel in 1951. After earning his degree in engineering he began building aircraft for the Israel Air Force. He immigrated to the United States in 1977 and shortly thereafter began working for the Navy.

“Before Karem came onto the scene, the only unmanned aircraft we had were the decommissioned planes that were repurposed as targets. These were refitted with a remote control system, and we called them drones,” said Shibley.

“But it was Karem who developed the first unmanned system for that specific purpose.” The craft was called the Amber, and it was fitted with a camera and used for surveillance and reconnaissance, she said.

“Now that might not mean much to people outside of the industry, but here is where it gets interesting — the Amber eventually evolved into the GNAT 750, which then morphed into the Predator. He is literally the father of UAVs as we know them.”

Karem eventually founded Leading Systems, where he began building drones out of his garage. That operation ultimately grew to a multimillion-dollar company that he sold to General Atomics.

Decades later he is still in the industry, now as head of Karem Aircraft. He told the News Review that he is interested in Inyokern as a test site — particularly because of its proximity to China Lake.

Karem said that his team used the desert skies for testing on the Amber from 1985-90, and on the A160 from 2000-4. “If you look at what we did before with unmanned aircraft, having China Lake adjacent to the site is really an asset.”

Being located in the center of a region renowned for its technical workforce and contributions, as well as access to the restricted airspace, potentially make IYK a great place to test. “There is a need for a streamlined operation. If Inyokern can provide that access to China Lake, it would be a major asset.”

“The world-class airspace and preponderance of intellectual capital are what truly set us apart from many other candidates,” said Shibley.

“The way we left it, this will be the first of many visits. I think he is just one of many people in the industry who are waiting for the FAA to move forward with the effort to open up our skies.

“On a national level, we need to take this next step in preserving the technical advancement of this industry in the United States. On a regional level, this could potentially be exactly what California needs to reinvigorate economic growth and job development in our state. We want to be a part of that and can’t wait to see how this helps the local stakeholders as well.”

Story First Published: 2013-11-13