The Center for Remote Integration (CRI), an organization with a mission of promoting unmanned systems in Montana, announced the launch of the first “Made in Montana” Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) at a Research and Development facility outside of Columbia Falls, MT. UAS, also known as drone aircraft, have gained world-wide attention in recent years for surveillance and military targeting operations overseas.
CRI Directors and State Senators Ryan Zinke and Ed Buttrey called the event “a milestone in our ability to leverage our “Big Sky” to promote the kind of forward looking industries and jobs that we need in Montana.” Tuesday’s flight featured the Sandstorm, an aircraft with a 15 foot wingspan, which recently received an Experimental Airworthiness Certificate from the FAA and can be flown via the internet.
The Sandstorm is unique in that can be flown in Montana and controlled from virtually anywhere in the world without having to use expensive satellite communication. The Sandstorm can be powered by either battery or jet engine, and can carry a payload of 20-40 lbs. “These aircraft will transition from today’s military-centric role to one of performing cost effective civilian applications such as farming, wildlife management, and wildfire command and control. We are at the beginning of a multi-billion dollar industry that will change aviation forever” states Zinke. The project has been in the works for over a year and has steadily moved forward from concept to actual flight testing.
The intention of the organization is to build a vibrant UAS industry in Montana that takes advantage of the state’s unique assets. Montana is the only state within the lower forty eight that offers such a large expanse of unencumbered airspace with a unique diversity in terrain, vegetation, and climate. The Hays Military Operations Area (MOA) alone outside of Great Falls is nearly the size of the Florida Peninsula and offers the ideal location for a UAS research and development. Coupled with a growing university research capability and an increase in small high tech start-up companies, “Montana is well positioned to become a leader in the next wave of technology in terms of UAS manufacturing, software and instrumentation development“ Zinke says.
Buttrey, who is heading up the UAS manufacturing effort in Great Falls describes the potential for job creation in Montana as a result of UAS to be “significant in terms of the quality of jobs, number of people employed and future growth in the industry.” CRI has received support from both the Montana Congressional Delegation and the Governor’s office in putting pressure on the FAA to fast track the development of safety guidelines to allow UAS to fly outside of military Restricted Airspace. Senator Baucus, in particular, has been instrumental in prompting the FAA to establish national UAS Test and Development sites to manage the safe integration of civilian UAS into the National Airspace. Maintaining our edge as a nation in the aerospace industry is a strategic imperative and we think Montana offers the right venue” Zinke explains.
The goal of the project over the next few months will be to add private industry partners and establish a resume of flight operations at selected locations in Montana to include Great Falls, Kalispell, Lewistown and Glasgow.
CRI Press Release, Photo Credit – Mark Loncar