Amid a year of growth in operations at the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range, drone company PAE ISR signed a deal with NASA to develop and demonstrate sensory technology on its Resolute Eagle drone.
Jake Jacobs, the chief technology officer at PAE ISR, said the company is expected to utilize the drone’s sense and avoid capabilities for a demonstration in 2020.
Pendleton UAS Range Manager Darryl Abling said a drone’s ability to either autonomously avoid or send information to a pilot about other potential aircraft or obstacles will be critical to the integration of UAS into the national airspace.
While the Federal Aviation Administration has usually been the primary agency involved with bringing unmanned aircraft into the public skies, Jacobs said NASA is acting as the “middleman” in this demonstration.
Jacobs said that if the demonstrations put on by PAE and other two companies selected out of 88 proposals is successful, the federal government could use the technology as the standard for future drones. Abling said the NASA project will mean more activity at the range as PAE ISR ramps up operations over the next two years ahead of the demonstration.
PAE ISR has seen a quick rise to prominence at the Pendleton airport, moving from a back room at the range’s Mission Control and Innovation Center to the massive World War II-era hangar near the airport terminal.
Steve Chrisman, Pendleton airport manager and economic development director, said the hangar used to act as aircraft storage and a “giant aviary” that rented for $1 per year.
The city recently agreed to reroof the facility for $164,000, but PAE ISR has made some renovations of its own.
The drone company is installing new floors and converting some of the side rooms into a lobby, meeting room, and office space.
All of this has been made possible because the Sterling, Virginia-based company’s business is expanding.
In addition to the NASA partnership, PAE ISR already has a contract with the Navy to develop Resolute Eagle for surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
Ken Bisconer, PAE ISR’s West Coast director of flight operations, said the company’s personnel presence in Pendleton has grown from 10 to 27, and he’s currently looking to hire three more people.
Bisconer said he’s hired four people from the Oregon Army National Guard’s Pendleton facility and two more who were previously stationed in Pendleton and wanted to move back.
Among the roles Bisconer is looking to fill is an electric engineer position. He also prefers hiring locally because they’ll know where to find the right parts and already have a network of connections.
Bisconer anticipated that the company’s operation in Pendleton could double within the next year.
“It’s just a crazy time for us right now,” he said.
Bisconer also highlighted the company’s work in the community, which includes donating technology to a Pendleton Parks and Recreation drone program and opening discussions with Blue Mountain Community College about starting a UAS training class.
For Abling, it’s proof that the city’s early investments in the command center and other infrastructure were worth the money.
Bisconer said PAE ISR considered several places to locate their drone testing operation, but Pendleton’s resources and customer service put them over the top.
“If you don’t have it, they’ll find some place that will,” Abling said.
But as PAE ISR and other companies start to grow at the airport, the UAS range could become a victim of its own success.
Bisconer said he anticipated that PAE ISR would need an additional hangar in six to nine months.
With no vacant hangars to spare, Chrisman said one of the airport’s main challenges is finding a way to build more hangar space to meet demand.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.