Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi announced Monday that Texas has been named one of six test sites for unmanned aircraft (drones) chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“We are proud to be part of this historic moment in aviation history,” said Dr. Flavius Killebrew, president and CRO of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Monday.
“Together with our partners, we will lead the way for the research and development of this new age in aviation technology.”
It was 10 months ago that Dr. Ron George of Texas A&M University spoke to the Bee Development Authority board of directors regarding a bid for the university to use one hangar and the runways at the Chase Field Industrial and Airport Complex for an unmanned testing program.
Back then, George said he had been working full time with the FAA preparing a $2 million competitive proposal for the federal agency.
George said his team had been working seven days a week, between eight and 10 hours a day.
“Texas is gold,” George told the BDA board. “Our team fell in love with the Beeville airport. It’s an ideal location. It’s just what we need to get large aircraft into the sky.”
George corrected County Judge David Silva when he asked the aviation expert if the program here would involve drones.
“A drone is stupid,” George said. “Unmanned aircraft operate entirely by computers which plan their flights from takeoff to landing.”
He said $10,000 unmanned helicopters are being used now to manage agriculture in Japan. The practice costs much less then using manned aircraft for the same purposes.
BDA Executive Director Joe B. Montez was ecstatic over the news. He said he was not yet sure what the economic impact of the program would be here. For instance, he did not know how many jobs the project would create.
He was able to confirm that the authority would provide Hangar 24 for the project.
Both Hangars 24 and 25 were being used until the end of last year for helicopter repairs and refitting by Kay and Associates and Sikorsky Aerospace. The two companies closed the operation at the end of 2012 after the federal government drastically reduced spending as a part of its “sequestration” budget cuts.
“The program will start quickly, right after the first of the year,” Montez confirmed.
“I’m just elated about it,” Montez said.
He credited the efforts of U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz as well as State Rep. J.M. Lozano for success of the Texas proposal.
“Today’s announcement by the Federal Aviation Administration that Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in collaboration with Chase Field in Beeville was selected as a test site to study safety requirements for unmanned aircraft systems will have a significant economic impact in Beeville,” said Congressman Vela.
“Chase Field’s state-of-the-art hangars and extensive infrastructure will be utilized to make unmanned aircraft systems safer while providing jobs in Bee County and the Coastal Bend.”
Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will all host sites designed to see how unmanned aircraft could be integrated into American society, said a report from the Associated Press.
“These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement Monday.
FAA officials said they chose the states for the program based on geography, climate and location of ground infrastructure in determining where the sites were to be placed.
When the A&M team spoke with the BDA board earlier this year, George told Montez and the board that “your hangars are golden.”
The BDA spent considerable money upgrading the hangars during the time Sikorsky was conducting operations here. For example, the structures are equipped with state-of-the-art fire suppression systems.
George also had glowing praise for the air space over this part of Texas, calling it “the safest air space in the country with the possibly exception of Alaska.”