Pendleton City Council continues to voice its support for the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range, but they want evidence that it’s making an economic impact.
Range Manager Darryl Abling delivered a report updating the council on the UAS range’s latest business Tuesday, hoping to prove that case.
Abling noted that Project Vahana — an air taxi project from A^3, the Silicon Valley subsidiary of Airbus — is moving forward at the test range.
After the city revealed that Vahana would be the first tenant of its new hangar in June, A^3 agreed to rent the range’s mobile command center on a six-month lease.
Abling said two Vahana vehicles are being built in Santa Clara, California, with testing in Pendleton expected to begin in November.
• Another drone that will be tested at the range is the Flyox, a 8,800-pound “water bomber” capable of carrying 4,000 pounds of water.
Built by a Spanish company called Singular Aircraft, the Flyox is being developed for firefighting, agriculture and goods transport, according to the Singular website.
With the vehicle already tested in Europe and generating significant demand, Abling said Singular is interested in manufacturing the aircraft in Pendleton.
The Flyox is expected to arrive in Pendleton in October.
• Navmar Applied Science Corp. is already familiar with Pendleton, having recently tested its ArcticShark drone at the range.
Abling said Navmar will return with their atmospheric measuring unmanned aerial vehicle in August and will bring a bigger team, transferring some of its business from Pennsylvania to Pendleton.
Abling said the ArcticShark will be the first UAS tested under the range’s fixed command center.
The range hired Steve Lawn to helm that command center. Lawn previously worked for Digital Harvest, another UAS company with an office in Pendleton.
While excited by the news, some on the council wanted Abling to provide a report with more statistics to satiate some of the skeptical members of the public.
“I’d like to see, at some point, some documentation on return on investment,” Councilor Paul Chalmers said. “I know there was a lot of skepticism. ‘Why is the city investing all these dollars’ and yada yada yada. I understand that concern. But from everything that I’m hearing and seeing from this presentation, we’re just starting to see a mushroom cloud starting to develop for the activity that’s taking place out there.”
Councilor Neil Brown said he’s also fielded questions about how many jobs the UAS range has generated and a report about that topic would be useful.
When asked what the UAS range needed going forward, Abling said the “biggest alligator in the boat” was the need for more hangar space.
Wayne Green, the city’s airport engineer, said the price of building a new mid-size hangar ranges between $250,000-$500,000.
After Abling concluded his report, the council continued to lavish praise on the range, with Councilor Becky Marks calling it “phenomenal.”
“This is a snowball,” Councilor Scott Fairley said. “It’s going to ripple throughout this community.”
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