Guard drones could launch airport into new era

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Associated Press

Posted on December 31, 2012 at 4:30 PM

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — The National Guard in Pendleton expects to launch unmanned air vehicles soon out of the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport to train its 23-troop platoon.

City officials are optimistic the high-tech industry could bring jobs to Pendleton and fill properties on airport land, according to the East Oregonian (http://is.gd/N0gXJv).

Gregg Schroeder with the Oregon Army National Guard said the guard is waiting for Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly the craft — commonly known as drones or UAVs — at the airport.

Operating drones from the airport would not be restricted to Guard use.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department and others could fly UAVs out of the airport to spot fires, track salmon migration, locate lost hunters and hikers and gather crop moisture information, said Fish and Wildlife commissioner Carter Kerns, who volunteered to research how UAVs could benefit the city.

The technology also could attract UAV and drone manufacturers to locate at the airport's industrial property, according to Kerns. He envisions Oregon State University and other schools partnering with state agencies to train employees to operate UAVs.

"The possibility for economic development for Pendleton, I think, would be measured in the millions rather than the hundreds of thousands," said Kerns, a retired FBI agent. "(It would be) the best thing that's happened to Pendleton in my lifetime, and I was born here."

The Oregon Army National Guard has five UAVs, and flies the four housed at its Boardman station. Gaining FAA clearance to fly out of Pendleton would allow the platoon to conduct more UAV training.

The Pendleton UAVs, which do not carry weapons, are shaped like airplanes, weigh 375 pounds, are 12 feet long and have a 13 foot wingspan. They are not allowed to fly over densely populated areas.

The platoon would continue to conduct training in Boardman, such as night flights. Night flights would not be allowed at the airport.

The Guard's fifth drone is a small four-pound device that is housed elsewhere. It has not yet been flown.

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer declined to comment on UAVs.

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Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.info

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