Air Force, Ohio to invest in drone research at local airport


SPRINGFIELD, Ohio (AP) — Small drones are being flown in tests at a western Ohio airport as a step toward eventually flying the unmanned aircraft out of sight of their operators.

The new technology has the potential to change national security and defense operations as well as commercial businesses that use drones, The Springfield News-Sun reported (http://bit.ly/2fs2lAy ).

“This will be ground breaking,” said Art Huber, director of operations at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The Air Force and the state of Ohio plan to jointly invest $5 million in research equipment in hopes that Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport will receive Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly drones beyond engineers’ sight lines.

If approved, the testing will push the limits of drone flying beyond what has ever been allowed under federal law.

The new technology will be used with the FAA’s air traffic control network and other equipment to enable a ground-based sense-and-avoid system that would be the first step in leading to more automated flights.

David Gross, chief engineer at the Wright State Research Institute, said engineers also are working on software that would allow the drones to power themselves.

“The aircraft is making its own decisions based on the mission objectives that you give it,” Gross said.

The Air Force Research Laboratory plans to install the new technology at the Clark County airport in conjunction with Wright State Research Institute before the end of the year, Huber said.

Federal and state officials selected the Springfield-Beckley airport to serve as the new test site because it’s close to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Regulators have yet to establish rules regarding commercial drone usage. But some companies, including online retailers like Amazon, already have committed to delivering packages via drones.

Officials believe manufacturers and retailers could look to build around the airport if the testing is a success.

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Information from: Springfield News-Sun, http://www.springfieldnewssun.com

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