Texas has been named a test site for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), based on a statewide proposal led by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
“We are proud to be a part of this historic moment in aviation history,” said Dr. Flavius Killebrew, President and CEO of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “Together with our partners, we will lead the way for the research and development of this new age in aviation technology.”
The test sites will facilitate testing and research of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technologies to provide scientific data on the future integration of these aircraft safely with other air traffic. Congress mandated that the UAS be integrated into the national airspace by 2015. One of the main research goals is finding the safest methods for unmanned planes to sense other aircraft and take measures to avoid collisions.
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has been doing UAS research for about two years, looking at ways to use UASs for mapping sea grass, detecting oil spills and hotspots in wild fires, monitoring hurricanes, and herd counting for ranchers. Click here for high resolution photos. The University’s Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center (LSUASC) proposal was the only one from Texas being considered by the FAA, and had the backing of Texas Governor Rick Perry.
“Texas has a long and distinguished history in the aerospace industry, and this test site is an important opportunity to create jobs and grow the industry in our state,” Gov. Perry said. “This technology will not only protect our country, but has the potential to advance other industries as well, and this test site will play a role in ensuring it is used in a way that benefits our citizens while protecting their privacy and safety.”
This historic decision will have huge financial implications for the entire state of Texas, especially South Texas. The Association of Unmanned Vehicles International published an economic impact study in March projecting, once airspace is opened to UAS, the economic impact would be about $8 billion statewide, and $260 million in South Texas over the next 10 years; creating about 1,200 jobs.
“Texas earned the FAA designation partly as a result of efforts by two Texas A&M System institutions who brought together their industry-leading knowledge and research,” said Chancellor John Sharp, Texas A&M University System. “We are proud to grow the Texas A&M System’s reputation for excellence in research to the unmanned aircraft field.”
Much of the expected economic benefit would center on the Coastal Bend. The City of Corpus Christi recognizes the importance of bringing this type of research to the area and has been very supportive of the proposal.
“This is good news for the University, for Corpus Christi and for the entire state,” said Nelda Martinez, Mayor of Corpus Christi. “The FAA recognizes what our community has to offer in its expertise and immense airspace that cannot be found anywhere else.”
The LSUASC has been designated as a research center affiliated with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) by the Texas A&M System Board of Regents. A&M-Corpus Christi and TEES collaborated with private-sector partner Camber Corporation and other research institutions and private-sector companies to form the statewide team that produced the competitive proposal accepted by the FAA.
“This is a unique opportunity for TEES to connect its research divisions from Corpus Christi and College Station into a powerful coalition and help develop a test site that will benefit from the research and technology expertise within TEES in several key areas associated with the design, communications, and the command and control of unmanned aerial vehicles,” said Dimitris LaGoudas, Deputy Director of TEES.
Camber is a leader in unmanned technology and was approached by several states to help in developing test sites, but chose Texas because of what the University has to offer.
“The intellectual energy and intellectual capital this university brought to the table, along with the leadership and the vision of both University President Dr. Flavius Killebrew and Dr. Luis Cifuentes, makes us very excited about our partnership with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi,” said Joe Henry, Camber Corporation.
A&M-Corpus Christi is also collaborating with the top engineering, research and technology experts in the state including those at the University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute and the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in San Antonio.
“The University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute (UTARI) and our UTA-affiliated faculty are proud to be part of such a momentous effort for the state of Texas,” said Lt. General Rick Lynch, U.S. Army (Retired), Executive Director of UTARI. “We’re looking forward to working with our statewide partners in the coming months to bring all of our hard work and planning to fruition.”
The SWRI is one of the oldest and largest independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organizations in the United States and has designed and operated UAS vehicles and payload systems since 1993, utilizing numerous Texas sites.
“This designation will help make South Texas and the Gulf Coast the home of future generations of unmanned aerial systems,” said Richard Somers, Vice President of SWRI’s Aerospace Electronics, Systems Engineering and Training Division. “Good flying weather year-round, varied terrain, and the possibility of overwater testing above the Gulf of Mexico add up to an attractive locale for developing new designs and new capabilities.”
Now that the sites have been announced, the University will have six months to get the test site fully operational. In preparation for this, LSUASC opened the UAS Command and Control Center at the Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center in October that will manage the 11 Texas test ranges. For more information on A&M-Corpus Christi’s unmanned research, click here.