Oregon UAS test ranges complement, don’t compete

<p class="p1">A RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle lands at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport last May after a short inaugural flight in Pendleton. Commercial UAV interests are waiting for guidelines to be finalized by the FAA before being allowed to test drones in Pendleton.</p>

On the surface, Pendleton and Tillamook couldn’t be more different.

The former is an agricultural town known for its rodeo culture while the latter sits near the Oregon coast and is recognized nationally for the nearby dairy that bears its name.

Despite their difference, both cities share mutual efforts to bring drone test ranges to their respective communities.

Pendleton, Tillamook and Warm Springs were all given approval by the Federal Aviation Administration at the beginning of the year as a part of the Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex, which also includes test sites in Alaska and Hawaii.

Shortly after Pendleton received approval, the city contracted with Anchorage, Alaska-based Peak 3 Inc. to develop and manage a test site at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport.

While Pendleton has allocated more than $300,000 in city funds to develop the site, Tillamook’s range is headed by a private company.

Near Space Corp. has been operating in the Port of Tillamook Bay since 1996 and specialized in manufacturing and testing high-altitude balloons before joining the complex.

The port used federal dollars to fund the construction of Near Space’s current facility several years ago, but Port General Manager Michele Bradley said her organization is not involved in developing the test range. The construction costs were paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who granted $44.6 million to the port to repair its railroad that was damaged in a 2007 storm.

Near Space opened its $6.7 million facility in 2012, creating the infrastructure needed for testing drones as well as the high-altitude balloons Near Space already manufactures.

While each test range works to create safety and privacy parameters to meet FAA requirements, Peak 3 and Near Space are looking forward to collaborating in the future.

“We’re complimentary, not in competition,” said Peak 3 Vice President Brian Prange.

With their unique environments, Near Space President Tim Lachenmeier said customers would use different ranges depending on the drone applications they wanted to test.

“You can’t go whale watching in Pendleton,” he said.

Conversely, customers wanting to use unmanned aerial vehicles to analyze dryland wheat would have little use for Tillamook’s facility.

Regardless of the test range used, the goal of both companies is to bring economic development to Oregon.

According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the drone industry is expected to create 100,000 jobs by 2025.

Without any other test ranges being developed on the contiguous west coast, Prange said its important that Oregon’s ranges work together to attract a growing industry.

“What’s good for us is good for Oregon,” he said.


Contact Antonio Sierra at 541-966-0836 or asierra@eastoregonian.com

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