McKeever: Oklahoma a top spot for unmanned craft testing
BY STEPHEN MCKEEVER
Thursday, February 21, 2013
2/21/13 at 3:21 AM
The small, pilotless aircraft, known as a Raven, climbed gracefully over an Oklahoma field into the clear January skies. It was on a mission to search for a missing person in the woods near Fort Sill.
The missing person was an actor working for the Department of Homeland Security and the mission was part of a test developed by DHS personnel to evaluate the performance of the Raven in such circumstances. The mission was but one test in the DHS's Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety or RAPS program, the goal of which is to evaluate the performance of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems weighing less than 25 pounds, in a variety of test scenarios for potential use by first responders nationwide.
Other tests include wildfire monitoring, disaster response, law enforcement pursuit and other related first-responder activities where early situational awareness is critical to success.
DHS selected Oklahoma State University's UAS test facility near Elgin for the RAPS program. The facility, known as the Oklahoma Test Center-Unmanned Systems (OTC-US), is run and operated by UAS experts from OSU's University Multispectral Laboratories.
The facility near Elgin has a runway of more than 4,000 feet, a control center and hangars. It operates UAS in restricted airspace belonging to the U.S. Army, under an agreement with Fort Sill. It is one of the only locations in the nation where UAS can be flight-tested without the need for authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration. The results are rapid turnaround and prompt evaluation of UAS technologies.
The Raven is manufactured by AeroVironment and its technicians work alongside personnel from the UML and DHS to accomplish the required mission scenarios.
Earlier tests in December included UAS technology from Lockheed Martin. Other companies, large and small, await their turn. Similar tests are planned at a frequency of one per month.
The UML also partners with faculty and students at OSU's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering on a variety of UAS research and education projects. These include new airframe designs, new control systems and quiet engine technology, most of the funding for which comes from the federal government, including the Department of Defense and DHS.
Oklahoma State University also runs the nation's only graduate program option in UAS and students are successful in obtaining a wide variety of jobs in the aerospace industry. Their experience at OSU, including outstanding success at UAS national and international design-build-fly competitions, makes the school's graduates very attractive to leading employers.
OSU, the UML and other state partners, such as the University of Oklahoma, are helping to place Oklahoma at the forefront of UAS development. The state is becoming a foremost location for UAS testing as the nation considers, under the FAA's leadership, what is required to integrate UAS into the national airspace system and to enable UAS to be used for public benefit while protecting citizen's rights.
With the right decisions, the growth of this aerospace sector will be of great economic benefit to Oklahoma and the nation.
Original Print Headline: Oklahoma a top spot for unmanned craft testing
Stephen McKeever is vice president for research and technology transfer, Oklahoma State University.
Stephen McKeever: Growth of this aerospace sector will be of great economic benefit to Oklahoma and the nation.