September 2, 2013

Alabama, Tennessee team up to land drone test site


Associated Press

— A consortium of companies and universities in Alabama and Tennessee are hoping to develop a site where drones would be tested.

If approved, the facility could become one of only a half-dozen sites approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for research involving Unmanned Aerial Systems, more commonly known as drones, the news site Al.com reported.

Alabama and Tennessee have submitted a joint application in an effort to be selected as one of the six FAA UAS testing sites. Testing would be done at a site near Savannah, Tenn., in the southwest part of the state.

Plans call for each of the FAA sites to be used to develop methods and systems to integrate UAS flights into the nation’s airspace. The emphasis will be on commercial uses for drones, ranging from precision agriculture to environmental monitoring.

The joint application involving both states came about after Alabama originally submitted a stand-alone application with plans to locate the testing site at Redstone Arsenal, a U.S. Army Post in the Huntsville area. However, FAA regulations state that the testing facilities can’t be part of any existing federally owned property.

The proposed site in southwest Tennessee is the corporate headquarters of the ISR Group. It includes a 10-square-mile range of land in Hardin County for training, testing, and development of unmanned technologies, according to the company’s website.

The Tennessee site has been in operation for three years. The drones that fly over its ranges never leave its property and all cameras are directed toward the ground beneath, ISR officials said.

The University of Alabama in Huntsville is leading the consortium of more than 160 companies and universities working toward development of the site.

More than 50 applications from 37 states were receiving during the initial FAA proposal period. That number has been trimmed to 25 proposals from 24 states and will be cut down to about 12 sites. Mississippi, Georgia and Florida have all submitted proposals.

The FAA will visit those sites from September through October with a final decision coming in December. If selected by the FAA, all sites have to be operational within six months.