While many established corporations have chosen to locate in the Southern Virginia region, the area is also forging a path for an industry changing so fast that there is no standard definition for it—unmanned systems (UMS).
“Unmanned systems technology is the next generation of research and data analytics, and our investment in this technology gives Virginia companies the edge in competing in the global market,” Governor Terry McAuliffe said in a May 20 press release. “With these groundbreaking initiatives, Virginia’s researchers and engineers can expand technical capabilities in the aviation and energy fields and grow these critical sectors of the new Virginia economy.”
UMS manufacturing industries include firms that produce finished vehicles, components and instruments. Nonmanufacturing industries consist of specialized technology, design, programming and consulting services, which are inputs of the manufacturing industries.
Unmanned systems include more than just aircraft. Intelligent cars, self-guiding tractors, water surface and underwater vehicles are all technologies that make up this emerging field which holds the potential to benefit our citizens and industries in countless ways. Advances in automation and similar technologies have led to an exponential growth in demand for unmanned systems services and applications.
Despite the tremendous push from the commercial sector to develop the UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) industry, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been especially cautious in crafting guidelines that protect the safety of our citizens, while leaving many regulations up to the states.
Virginia is strategically positioned to be a UAS development leader. The Commonwealth has led the way in becoming a friendly partner for unmanned aircraft systems, relying upon the FAA to regulate air space while also maintaining certain limitations on law enforcement use that puts the public’s mind at ease and cultivates investment from industry.
The UAS industry was pushed forward in 2013 when Virginia Tech, along with partners in Maryland and New Jersey, was chosen by the FAA to be one of only six test sites.AA This Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) has been leading the U.S. in providing productive test flights and research for public and private organizations and students.
It’s through the work of partnerships like MAAP, and the enthusiastic support of Governor Terry McAuliffe, that the Commonwealth was recently awarded a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA for research flights up to 7,000 feet in altitude in an area of nearly 5,000 square miles in central Virginia. This new FAA-approved flight corridor will accelerate testing and development to further safe commercial integration of unmanned aircraft systems. The recently authorized airspace covers more than 10 percent of the state’s land area, including critical infrastructure such as airports, power plants, electric lines, energy assets and rail lines.
The new COA stretches across seven counties within VGA’s 10-county region, covering land in Buckingham, Nottoway, Cumberland, Prince Edward, Charlotte, Amelia and Lunenburg, in addition to eight other counties.
VGA’s willingness to be an industry leader has enabled companies like UAV Pro and Textron Systems Unmanned Systems to call the VGA home. With assistance from the Virginia Tech MAAP, which obtained the COA for aeronautical research, as well as UAV Pro, Textron Systems has moved its training and global service facility from its original location at Fort Pickett to a larger and more comprehensive Unmanned Systems Service and Support Center.
Located on the Allen C. Perkinson Airport/Blackstone Army Airfield Taxiway, the new 14,700-square-foot facility spans two buildings, which expanded Textron Systems’ space by approximately 1,700 square feet. The facility includes three classrooms with capacity for 12 students in each, as well as two simulator rooms that can operate up to 12 total flight simulators. The facilities also include an engine test cell and a air vehicle test cell, along with space for air vehicle assembly, composite and engine maintenance, repair and operations. The buildings will also have access to the airport for UAS operations directly outside the facility doors. Additionally, the buildings have an expandable and modular design, allowing for growth with business and product changes.
“The grand opening of a larger Unmanned Systems Service and Support Center is important to us because the UAS industry is growing—and we are excited to expand our location to accommodate this growth,” said Textron Systems Unmanned System Senior Vice President and General Manager Bill Irby. “With this expansion, we have the opportunity to train more operators, maintain additional UAS and continue our research on integrating UAS into national airspace.”
UAV Pro Inc., also located on the Allen C. Perkinson Airport/Blackstone Army Airfield Taxiway, employs highly experienced personnel with a proven track record of exemplary achievements with unmanned vehicles. UAV Pro assists their partners in achieving their program goals by providing operations, engineering and training support personnel on a contract or in-house basis.
“Virginia offers an incredible environment for the UAS industry,” said David Yoel, Chief Executive Officer of American Aerospace Technologies Inc. “The energy infrastructure, the interest and backing of the energy companies, the services offered by the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, and the active support of the Governor’s office have made Virginia the obvious choice to pursue this research.”
UNMANNED VEHICLE SYSTEMS in Virginia 2016, published by CACI International, Inc.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Newsroom, Press Release dated May 20, 2016
Uavpro.com newsroom, Press Release dated May 15, 2016
Textron.com newsroom, Press Release dated May 10, 2016