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Why These People Are Excited About UAS

Today our team had a busy day of onsite visits and lengthy phone conversations. The theme of every visit and call was clear: people are extremely excited about the unmanned aircraft industry.
By Luke Geiver | April 16, 2015

Today our team had a busy day of onsite visits and lengthy phone conversations. The theme of every visit and call was clear: people are extremely excited about the unmanned aircraft industry. While you might argue everyone we talk too would say that, it isn’t always the case. But today there was no mistaking the mood of the industry.

The Northern Plains UAS Test Site Executive Director, Robert Becklund, sat down with us to explain activity at the site. The phones have been ringing off the hook, he told us. And, the change to the certificate of authorization process, North Dakota’s statewide COA and a speedier process to receive a section 333 exemption have certainly helped. Over the past few months, Becklund said he has spoken with more than 100 entities, many of which have performed or will perform UAS test flights and research in the coming months. As you could imagine, the current F-16 pilot leading the site’s UAS effort is extremely excited. We could tell it in his voice as he spoke to us from across the table.  

Airware founder Jonathan Downey, former MIT student and Boeing unmanned aircraft developer, was excited about his company’s recent software release. Think of it like this, the team said: the new Airware Information Platform is what Windows is to the PC. The hardware and software package developed by Downey’s team can be used on multiple sUAV platforms to provide autopilot and autonomous flight, aircraft flight planning, control, monitoring and more. Although we talked on a wide-range of topics, it is worth noting that Downey, who has been developing Airware for the past ten years, has never been as excited about the state of the industry as he is now based on the FAA’s work and amount of client requests his team has incurred. When Airware started, the team headcount was 5. Today, it is more than 70. Tomorrow, the team will be even larger given the fact that its assessment (Windows to PC) of the recently release offering.

Tom Swoyer, executive director of Grand Sky, a UAS-tech park that will become the nation’s first major UAV airport, is also thrilled with the state of the UAS industry. Swoyer has worked diligently to establish a unique UAS tech park, wading through red-tape, multi-entity perspective and other hurdles. Northrop Grumman, the tech-parks first tenant, (whom also told us they were thrilled to be a part of the facility for a variety of reasons), just provided validation to Swoyer’s efforts, he said. Although many believed the vision for the Grand Sky part was too farfetched, he said the recent accomplishments reveal that work there will truly impact the entire UAS industry in a positive way.