Cal UAS moves forward as test site

Leaders puzzled by FAA decision to leave California out of aerospace venture

Cal UAS moves forward as test siteCalUAS — In the wake of the FAA’s Dec. 30 designation of six test sites for integrating unmanned aerial vehicles into national airspace, local leaders expressed disappointment that CalUAS was left out of the selection.

However, confidence that the Inyokern Airport-based effort would play a role in the development of unmanned technology was unanimously expressed among the members of the CalUAS team, as well as among the political representatives of the region.

“I still believe that CalUAS is the best place in the country for this kind of work,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy. “You cannot replicate our geography, climate and intellectual capital any place in the world.

“Kern County has played a key role in the advancement of aerospace technology for decades. We believe that will continue in the future and will stand ready to help usher in the new age of unmanned aviation.”

“I am disappointed by the FAA decision to exclude California as one of the test sites,” said state Sen. Jean Fuller.

“Our state, in particular the High Desert community, has a long history of fostering and developing new technologies in aerospace. As one of the fastest growing areas of the aerospace industry, unmanned aircraft manufacturing could bring thousands of new, high-paying jobs to our area. I will continue to support ventures that ensure that California remains a leader in aerospace research and development.”

“While I am surprised by the FAA’s decision, I don’t see this as a deterrent to the effort that has been set in place by the CalUAS team,” said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove.

“I know that Kern County will play a role in the integration of UAVs because we have already executed that feat at our local military bases, including China Lake.”

She also noted that the same things that began this process in the first place — the commercial UAV industry lobbying Congress for policies and procedures to move forward the technology — will be the same elements that ensure Inyokern’s role in the integration process.

“The environment we offer — the natural and intellectual resources and the largest restricted airspace in the country — will bring business here regardless of the FAA designation. I remain committed to supporting Inyokern in its efforts to bring high-tech jobs to the area, and will continue to work with the CalUAS team moving forward,” concluded Grove.

“Inyokern will sell itself. It is an undeniable fact that our value and capability cannot be matched anywhere else in the country,” said Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason. “The evidence of this will come to the surface.”

Gleason said that the merit of using Inyokern to stage integration research has been validated by the UAV companies that have already moved their operations to IYK this year.

“In Kern County we already have one of the premiere RDT&E facilities in the country, and we are a part of the aerospace corridor that has hosted some of the most significant achievements in manned flight. Our rural location and proximity to some of the brightest technical minds in the country still make us an ideal location to duplicate those same accomplishments in manned flight,” said Gleason.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta held a teleconference naming the six test sites — University of Alaska, state of Nevada, New York’s Griffiss International Airport, North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

The CalUAS area of operations includes Kern, San Diego and Imperial Counties. Team leads note that the proposal met all the requirements outlined in the FAA process for application. Huerta noted that the competition was “very robust” and that locations not selected for designation will be offered an opportunity for a debriefing.

California stands out in the field of candidates, as the only state whose governor did not endow financial support or endorsement. Some have speculated that may have been the reason for California being left out as a designee.

But the CalUAS team, including Executive Director Eileen Shibley, remained steady on their course toward an operational test site.

“Our reasons for putting CalUAS into existence were good then and they are good now,” said Shibley.

“We still have the best airspace, the best geographic and climatic diversity and ground infrastructure in place to host this work today.

“We are a group of technologists and entrepreneurs, and we will remain on course with a goal of ushering in a new era of unmanned systems technologies for commercial applications. We are starting with agriculture but are already branching out. We have four tenants at Inyokern, and we have others who have indicated an interest in setting up operations.”

In the two years spent developing Inyokern as an UAS research and test site, Shibley assembled a team of world-class safety officials, technical experts and entrepreneurs that have already set in motion an incubator for UAV technology — sanctioned by California’s business development office as an Innovation Hub.

She said that with those elements in place, CalUAS will continue to allow the needs of industry to help tailor solutions to move UAV technology to the next level.

“IYK will still become a center of commercial development,” said CalUAS Director of Robotic Farming Jeff Parisse. “I truly believe the California spirit of self-reliance and our undeniable aerospace history gives us the ability to run this race with unmatched agility and speed.”

“I do want to take this opportunity to congratulate the sites that were selected,” said Shibley. “The application process itself was tremendously informative in terms of how we need to plan our next steps.

“We are going to do this the old fashioned way. Those of us who have a vision of a future state where unmanned systems are ubiquitous are going to be a part of that future.”

Story First Published: 2014-01-08