Cal UAS — the path forward

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

With a continuously changing political landscape that has altered the face of Cal UAS over the last several months, Eileen Shibley recently outlined how the effort has reinvented its organizational structure and mission to adapt to that environment.

Chief among those developments is its new status as a California corporation of the same name, shepherded under a board that includes Shibley as the president, Donna Hocker as treasurer, Skip Gorman as secretary, Jim Suver and Don Cortichiato.

“The goal of Cal UAS remains the same — to usher in this new era of unmanned systems, and to be a part of everything that means. We also believe, as we always have, that our area is perfectly situated to play a huge role in that.”

The endeavor was born late 2011 when the FAA announced its intent to name six sites nationwide to facilitate integrating unmanned systems into national airspace. The China Lake Alliance and other local leaders identified this as an opportunity for the region — which has long been the home of aerospace milestones — to bring compatible industry to the high desert.

In June 2012 the Inyokern Airport partnered with the volunteers of the fledgling effort to become headquarters of the proposed Cal UAS site. The airport, the alliance and community donors raised money to put together a competitive bid, but learned Dec. 30 that the FAA had opted not to select a site in California.

When the airport dissolved the committee that was formed to capture the FAA designation, Shibley said, the group decided to shift its focus to developing unmanned systems for some of the most in-demand applications of this burgeoning industry. She said a big part of that decision was the increased difficulty in gaining authorization for testing from the FAA.

In January Cal UAS unveiled the Monarch, a small UAV that functions as a turnkey system for farmers to monitor their crops. The agriculture community has been steadily turning toward precision crop tending, and UAVs offer the most information, flexibility and efficiency to this end, said Shibley.

“When you break down the cost per acre, it is also the most economic option,” said Shibley. “Once you purchase a system your only future costs are replacing the batteries.”

She said that based on the warm reception to the farm-mapping Monarch, Cal UAS is in early development of systems that will serve the wind-turbine and utility-company markets as well.

Shibley added that Cal UAS is working with the city to get funding for a manufacturing facility for Monarch production. If that happens, the IWV could benefit from the creation of jobs as well as the generation of local tax revenue.

“We are talking about jobs in the areas of design, engineering, technical and electronics assembly,” said Shibley. “This is the best possible fit for our area. We live in a community of innovators, and we are compatible with the mission on the base. This will also provide a lot of opportunities for technology transfer.”

Story First Published: 2014-04-16