Test Sites: The Select Six

ALASKA
Remote Sensing

1. The Team
The Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range complex is likely the largest of the FAA test ranges both in terms of its number of participants and its geographic coverage. The University of Alaska Fairbanks manages the team, which comprises some 59 contributors including Oregon and Hawaii as well as the countries of Norway, Ireland and Canada.

ALASKA
Remote Sensing

1. The Team
The Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range complex is likely the largest of the FAA test ranges both in terms of its number of participants and its geographic coverage. The University of Alaska Fairbanks manages the team, which comprises some 59 contributors including Oregon and Hawaii as well as the countries of Norway, Ireland and Canada.

2. Test Ranges Include
The complex encompasses 11 ranges in three states—four in Alaska, four in Oregon and three in Hawaii. The Alaska ranges run from Kodiak Island in the south through the Poker Flats Research Range north to the large North Slope Range. Oregon has four test sites, largely in the northern part of the state, that encompasses desert and coastal environments. Hawaii boasts three test ranges, one each on the islands of Hawaii, Niihau and Kauai.

3. Incentives
Oregon offers research tax credits in several areas of potential interest to UAS developers including advanced computing and materials, environmental assessment and electronic device technology. There are property tax breaks for new or expanding facilities and the potential for a multi-year income tax holiday. Alaska offers small business loans of up to $300,000. It is also working on expanding its incentive program in ways of interest to the UAS industry, said Ro Bailey, director of the Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range complex. Hawaii has energized its assistance for high-tech firms and now offers the Blue Startups tech incubator – a network of angel investors – and the MBloom tech incubator and early-stage investment fund. The state also assists companies with overseas sales through its Foreign Trade Zone.

4. Research Centers
University of Alaska Fairbanks including the Alaska center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (AcUASI), which is part of UAF’s Geophysical, Institute; Oregon State University, University of Hawaii–Hilo.

5. Contact
Ro Bailey

Director Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex and Deputy Director
Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration
Office: (907) 455-2015
Mobile: (907) 322-2255

The Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex is one of the country’s most expansive test range consortiums. It offers seven climatic zones spread across 11 ranges that stretch from the cold waters off Alaska’s North Slope to the forests on the island of Hawaii. Under its deal with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the Range Complex will work on standards for unmanned aircraft categories, state monitoring, navigation and safety.

Remote sensing is the clear focus of the Range Complex team, which is led by University of Alaska Fairbanks. UAF is one of the country’s most experienced research institutions with a 13-year track record and more than 50 FAA Certificates of Authorization (COAs). University researchers are working to refine the use of unmanned aircraft for environmental monitoring, fishery assessment, resource mapping and emergency response—including doing an exercise where an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) was used to map a mock aircraft accident, identifying the location of survivors using infrared cameras.

In an unusual upcoming project scientists will study how to make UASs a practical aid for ships working their way through ice-choked waters.

“Ice on bodies of water, especially ocean bodies of water, doesn’t form in a smooth sheet,” explained Ro Bailey, director of the Range Complex. It forms ridges that can be jagged, many feet thick and “basically impossible” to get through. With only satellite images or the view from the ship’s bridge you’re guessing how to get through, she told Inside Unmanned Systems.

Alaska was the jumping-off point for the United States’ first commercial UAS flights in September. An Insitu ScanEagle took off from a ship in the Chukchi Sea chartered by the energy company ConocoPhillips to survey ice and mammal populations. The second commercial aircraft, an AeroVironment PUMA, will do oil spill monitoring and wildlife observation off the coast of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Circle.

Hawaii and Oregon are focused on remote sensing as well—though generally for far warmer projects. Researchers in the Aloha State are using UASs to assess invasive species in its tropical forests and detect crops infested with the Banana Bunchy Top Virus. The Oregon State University team is working with industry and government to develop UAS applications for tasks ranging from environmental monitoring and fire management to crop protection and law enforcement.


NEVADA
Unmanned Aircraft Standards

1. The Team
The Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development is leading the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) test range effort. The team’s core comprises three major academic centers plus industrial expertise gained supporting military unmanned aircraft programs.

2. Test Ranges Include
The sparsely populated state has tens of thousands of miles of airspace potentially available for flight testing of which more than 30,000 square miles are secure airspace, managed by the Departments of Defense and Energy. There is civilian airspace around the Reno-Stead Airport and at least three other locations including the Boulder City Airport, plus large expanses across the state where testing might be conducted safely. Potential secure test ranges include Creech Air Force Base, Nellis Air Force Base, Fallon Naval Air Station, Nevada National Security Site (NNSS)/Desert Rock Airport (DOE operated) and Hawthorne Army Depot.

3. Incentives
The state has no personal or corporate income tax and there is no warehouse tax — making it a cost effective location to store inventory of all kinds. Nevada also offers abatements on its sales tax that would otherwise run from 6.75 percent to 8.10 percent. In 2012 the state created the Knowledge Fund, a now $10 million effort to promote research and research commercialization in areas of the state targeted for economic growth. Grants from the fund can be used to hire and retain research teams, secure or build laboratories and as matching dollars for federal and private sector grants.

4. Research Centers
University of Nevada Las Vegas, University of Nevada Reno, the Desert Research Institute

5. Contact
Thomas Wilczek

Industry Specialist for Aerospace & Defense
Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development
555 East Washington, Suite 540
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Office: 775-687-9900
Email: tawilczek@diversifynevada.com
Web: http://www.diversifynevada.com/key-industries/aerospace-defense/uav

With deep roots in military unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) Nevada
has an expert workforce and, according to industry specialist Thomas
Wilczek of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, more
pilots capable of flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) than any other
state. Nevada has a “huge (Department of Defense) presence,” he said,
with a large Navy range in the northern part of the state and the Air
Force’s largest continental range in the south.

Nevada’s UAS test
range does not depend, however, on using the state’s military airspace,
Wilczek told Inside Unmanned Systems. With vast largely unpopulated
areas, Nevada offers many options for conducting tests safely and good
weather 320 days a year to help keep research on schedule. Flight data
from the tests will go to the Federal Aviation Administration to help
develop standards for both the aircraft and their operators as well as
assessments of how air traffic control procedures will need to evolve
when UASs are introduced into the national airspace system.

The
state’s universities have a broad interest in developing all kinds of
automated systems and the Silver State was the first to create a license
for automated cars. Researchers at the University of Nevada Las Vegas
(UNLV) are working on UAS communication and control as well as sensors
and the secure handling of data from unmanned systems, said Wilczek.

Researchers
at the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) are also looking at data
handling issues, he said, though much of their time is spent on
developing and improving small UAVs—those weighing 55 lbs or less. They
are working on advanced techniques to further reduce the size and weight
of these petite aircraft, he said. “Everything is going toward
miniaturization.”

Both schools soon will be getting new facilities
aimed at supporting work in unmanned aerial vehicles. UNLV has been
tasked with creating a Center of Excellence, an incubator designed to
help with the commercialization of UAS technology. UNR, in addition to
launching a new engineering minor in unmanned technology, is building a
research hub called the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation
Center in downtown Reno.

The University of Nevada is not the
state’s only institution doing research on UAS applications. The Desert
Research Institute, the environmental research arm of the Nevada System
of Higher Education, is developing new unmanned aircraft and studying
their use for environmental applications. The Institute is looking at
seeding clouds using UAVs and at utilizing them to fight forest fires as
well as map changes in plants as they encounter environmental
stressors.

Wilczek said he expects the state to attract firms that
develop and build UAVs as well as many companies who make up the supply
chain. Leading UAS companies Lockheed Martin and General Atomics
already call the state home as do Northrop Grumman, Sierra Nevada
Corporation, Arcata Associates, and Science Application International
Corporation (SAIC).


NEW YORK
Testing and Evaluation

1. The Team
Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR) Alliance leads a consortium of more than 50 universities, companies and facilities supporting testing on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in New York and Massachusetts. The group includes firms like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Helios as well as research organizations such as Draper Laboratory and the Air Force Research Labs Information Directorate. More than 20 colleges and universities contribute to NUAIR.

2. Test Ranges Include
Griffiss International Airport in New York state and Joint Base Cape Cod in Massachusetts plus other locations on a case-by-case basis.

3. Research Centers
The Rochester Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lead a network of research institutions that includes Boston University, Cornell University, Cape Cod Community College, Cayuga Community College, Clarkson University, Dowling College, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Mohawk Valley Community College, Onondaga Community College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Syracuse University, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute plus SUNY IT, the SUNY Binghamton, Morrisville, Buffalo, Oswego and Cortland campuses and the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry.

4. Incentives
New York has more than 80 technology incubators and co-location facilities spread throughout the state. There is also a program in place where businesses that locate within certain distances of academic institutions can receive an income tax exemption, said Lawrence H. Brinker, NUAIR executive director and general counsel. Massachusetts, which is famous for its tech companies, has a fund geared specifically to helping such firms get off the ground. The Emerging Technology Fund offers qualifying companies loans or loan participations of up to $1.5 million and loan guarantees of up to $1.5 million. Bridge financing is available to support firms until federal grants arrive and certain Massachusetts counties and regions have additional loan programs.

5. Contact
Lawrence H. Brinker, Esq.

Executive Director and General Counsel
Office: 607-206-2167
email: lbrinker@nuair.org

Andrea Bianchi
Program Manager
Office: 315-470-1835
email: lbrinker@nuair.org

NUAIR Alliance
115 West Fayette Street
Syracuse, New York 13202
Web: www.nuair.org

The states of New York and Massachusetts are collaborating to support research on unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) through the non-profit Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR) Alliance. Working under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight, NUAIR will help develop processes for UAS testing, evaluation, verification and validation. The Syracuse-based group will also support work on sense-and-avoid technologies and techniques for integrating unmanned aircraft into the congested Northeast airspace.

Though testing can potentially take place anywhere in the region with FAA approval the two main ranges are located at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York and Joint Base Cape Cod in Massachusetts about 55 miles south of Boston. Griffiss has space to host visiting researchers, said Larry Brinker, NUAIR’s executive director and general counsel. The facility can provide up to two private offices, hangar space, storage space and analysis capability. There are two other New York airports supporting NUAIR as well: the Plattsburgh International Airport in Plattsburgh and Binghamton International Airport in Binghamton.

NUAIR’s academic contingent includes more than 20 colleges and universities from around the region. They are led by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts RIT researchers have worked on a range of UAS technologies including autonomous navigation and image processing and techniques for improving battlefield drones. They also have “developed some very spectacular imaging sensors,” said Brinker.

The research at MIT includes work on new materials, control interfaces and even the development of small quad-copters to act as guides on the MIT campus. MIT scientists will test their designs on the 22,000 acres of Joint Base Cape Cod, which stretches to parts of Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee and Sandwich. MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development authority, will manage the facility, which was formerly known as the Massachusetts Military Reservation.


NORTH DAKOTA
Communications and Electronics

1. The Team
The state’s lieutenant governor chairs the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority, which manages the state’s test range effort. The University of North Dakota is the leading research member of the group, which also includes North Dakota State University, the Office of the Adjutant General, North Dakota Aeronautics Commission and the North Dakota Department of Commerce.

2. Research Centers
University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University.

3. Test Ranges Include
The airspace over most of the state is potentially available for flight tests—especially of limited-range, line-of-sight systems, said Robert Becklund, executive director of Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority. In addition the University of North Dakota is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to identify some 13,000 square miles of airspace where low population densities would make it possible to fly Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) without the need for temporary flight restrictions.

4. Incentives
The state offers qualifying companies abatements on income tax for up to 5 years as well as breaks on sales tax, investment tax credits, interest rate buy-downs and gap financing. There is also help with workforce training and financial support for bringing in interns. The state’s new Research North Dakota program offers successful applicants up to $300,000 in matching funds for joint projects between companies and the state’s research universities to advance technologies close to commercialization. The money goes to pay the university’s costs in doing the project.

5. Contact
Robert Becklund

Director, Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site
Clifford Hall, Room 237
4149 University Ave.
Grand Forks, ND 58202
Office: 701-777-6330
Email: rbecklund@md.gov
Web: northernplainsuas.com/

With the Air Force, U.S. Customs and the National Guard each flying unmanned aircraft from bases in North Dakota, the state became a hub of unmanned flight activity long before the FAA tapped it for help in integrating unmanned aircraft into the nation’s skies. Though the Peace Garden State has been deeply involved in aviation since the University of North Dakota (UND) established the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences (UND Aerospace) in the 1960s, it was the 2005 round of military base realignments that brought the Predator, Global Hawk and Raven to Grand Forks Air Force Base and to the Air National Guard garrison about 75 miles south in Fargo.

“I think we’re the only place in the United States, perhaps the world, to have all three of the U.S. Air Force’s major (unmanned) platforms flying in the same place,” said Robert Becklund, director of the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Test Site.

The Border Patrol, which is part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, flies the Reaper out of North Dakota to help monitor the Canadian border.

About the time military aircraft started arriving in the state, said Becklund, UND began building its research capabilities for unmanned systems and launched the nation’s first undergraduate degree program in unmanned aircraft. Research at UND includes work on sense-and-avoid technologies, radiation-hardened and fault tolerant electronics as well as imaging sensors. In a project funded by the Air Force, university scientists are developing a ground-based radar system capable of detecting low observable aircraft such as sailplanes and hot-air balloons to give UAS operators the most comprehensive picture of their airspace.

North Dakota State University, located in Fargo, has a “world-class” engineering department, said Becklund, and particular expertise in electronic and electrical engineering and specialties in nano and microscale electronics. ND State is also a land grant school and the region’s largest agricultural university. UAS applications supporting agriculture, North Dakota’s biggest industry, are expected to be the breakout market for unmanned aircraft over the next 10 years.

North Dakota will assist the FAA by validating high reliability link technology and developing UAS airworthiness essential data. The teams will also conduct human factors research for the aviation agency. The state has already allocated $4 million to run the site through the end of 2016 when the test range agreement ends.


TEXAS
Marine Applications

1. The Team
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi leads a largely academic team comprising Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) — which partners with the Corpus Christi campus to support the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center (LSUASC). Texas A&M University-College Station is also part of the cadre as is the Center for Autonomous Vehicles and Sensor Systems (CANVASS), the Southwest Research Institute, the University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute, the Camber Corporation and a number of other research institutions and private-sector organizations.

2. Incentives
The state government offers a range of incentives including tax breaks, expansion and relocation financing, an emerging technology fund that gives grants to both further research and help bring it to market, and the Texas Enterprise Fund to help entice operations to locate in the Lone Star State.

3. Test Ranges
Texas offers 11 test ranges including the airfield complex at the Riverside Campus in Bryan, Texas and the nearby Disaster City test area, the large, Big Bend range near Fort Stockton, the Fort Hood range near Killeen Texas, the Chase Field Range near Beeville and the Chase corridor which stretches 13 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, plus five land and shore sites, including the large TAMUCC maritime range on Padre Island and the adjacent Gulf range, the Dual 1 and 2 site west of TAMU-CC Padre and the Laguna range along Texas’ Laguna Madre. A map of the sites is available at http://lsuasc.tamucc.edu/lsuasc_test_site.php

4. Contact
Gloria Gallardo

Director, Communications & Public Affairs, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Office: (361) 825-2427
Mobile: (361) 331-5093
Email: Gloria.gallardo@tamucc.edu

With test ranges that literally span sea and shore the Texas team intends to concentrate its unmanned research on applications involving coastal and ocean areas. From tracking marine mammals and monitoring the environment to assessing the condition of drilling platforms, the Lone Star team intends to develop and demonstrate new ways to use unmanned aircraft to benefit seaside communities.

“We have a very strong coastal marine program that has been there for a long time,” said Luis Cifuentes, vice president for research commercialization and outreach at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “That’s our historical strength and we’re simply going to move it into the arena of using unmanned aircraft systems as a remote sensing platform for marine science.”

Sensors will be the team’s focus, Cifuentes told Inside Unmanned Systems. “Our team members are going to be doing a lot of work with geospatial applications—having video cameras, both visible and (ultra violet), and (infrared) detections and other multispectral devices, to be able to look at a variety of different things.”

Unmanned aircraft armed with suites of such sensors could, for example, have a real impact by helping find oil leaks, he said. Once they spot something out of the ordinary, gliders and ships could be guided to the location to investigate further. Team members are also working on the advances in information technology and computer science required to get the information back and forth from these aircraft, said Cifuentes, “so that you cannot only safely operate the system but you can also get the data you need from the system in real-time if it’s critical.”

That does not mean platform development is getting second shrift. The fixed-wing UAS research and testing program at Texas A&M University-College Station develops custom fixed-wing aircraft to support specific applications including humanitarian relief, precision agriculture, infrastructure assessment, and environmental monitoring.

The state also offers a unique resource for testing UAVs designed for first responders. Disaster City is a made-for-training “urban” area full of simulated rubble and recreated emergencies. Researchers developing autonomous air and ground vehicles can use this world-renown facility, located in College Station, to test their inventions on sets modeled on the damage from real earthquakes, fires and bomb blasts.

Under its agreement with the FAA, the team will gather data during its research flights to support development of safety requirements and the protocols and procedures needed for airworthiness testing. Not all of the research on autonomous vehicles will be useful for setting flight rules though. Cifuentes said the team also will be working on underwater autonomous vehicles and land-based autonomous vehicles.


VIRGINIA
Autonomous Technology

1. The Team
The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, led by Virginia Tech, is the combined effort of Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

2. Research Centers
Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Rutgers University, National Institute of Aerospace, Liberty University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University, The Richard Stockton College of NJ, Virginia State University.

3. Test Ranges

  • Kentland Experimental Aerial Systems Laboratory
  • NASA Langley Research Center
  • NASA Wallops Flight Facility
  • Maryland Eastern Shore
  • Chesapeake Bay
  • areas off the Atlantic coast and Naval Air Warfare Center at Patuxent River with additional potential test sites including the New Jersey Air National Guard Warren Grove Gunnery Range

4. Incentives
MAAP states offer incentives for firms, particularly larger organizations, to relocate. The states also offer some support for firms seeking seed money, said Jon Greene, interim executive director. In addition coalition members are working with state officials to craft packages that could assist very small but promising companies.

5. Contact
Jon Greene

Interim Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) and the Virginia Tech UAS test site
Office: 540-231-8566
Mobile: 540-553-5846
Email: greenej@vt.edu
Web: http://www.devtest.ictas.vt.edu/

Virginia Tech leads the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP), a coalition comprising Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey that is not only able to support research in unmanned aircraft but autonomous land and marine systems as well. Virginia Tech has more than a decade of experience with Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs), active Certificates of Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and airspace at its Kentland Experimental Aerial Systems Laboratory. The school also has offers of airspace from NASA’s Langley Research Center and Wallops Flight Facility as well as $2.6 million in funding in hand from the state of Virginia.

To support the FAA, the group will focus on researching failure mode testing and the operational and technical risks specific to unmanned aircraft systems. New Jersey’s Rutgers has done a tremendous amount of research for the FAA in the past, said systems and will soon demonstrate how a UAV can work with the award-winning Robotics Assisted Bridge Inspection Tool (RABIT) to assess the underside of a bridge.

The University of Maryland brings to the team data computing expertise, airspace along the coast and a long-standing cooperative relationship with the Naval Air Warfare Center at Patuxent River. University researchers are able to tap into both the Warfare Center’s facilities and the cutting-edge research being done there, said Matt Scassero, director of the University of Maryland UAS test site, without the limits potentially facing users of other Defense Department resources. The center is a major range and test facility base, explained Scassero, and as such is encouraged to share its assets with civilian researchers—and not just the airspace “but all the infrastructure and telemetry that goes with it.”

MAAP will be able to offer unmanned aircraft as well as MAAP’s Interim Executive Director Jon Greene, and will be able to apply its extensive experience in air traffic control, modeling and airspace simulation to the challenge.

Like Virginia Tech, which has experience developing ground and marine autonomous systems, Rutgers works across all domains. The school developed the Webb Slocum glider, an underwater vehicle that collects data as it moves through the ocean by taking in and expelling water, said Tom Farris, dean of the School of Engineering. Rutgers is also working on integrating different kinds of unmanned airspace for those who, for example, need a platform to test sensors. With test locations less than an hours drive from Washington, MAAP also offers a particular advantage to those pitching ideas to the federal government, said Greene. “It would be very useful to be able to do demonstrations for your potential customers.”

“I think we have an extremely broad capability,” said Greene. “That’s what you get when you have three research universities with very close relationships with some of the primary research centers in the federal government looking at the field of unmanned aircraft.”

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