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Men Behind the Unmanned on KSAL

Jeff Garretson

K-State Salina’s unmanned aircraft systems program continues to grow – and is pushing for more room to fly in the skies over Kansas.

K-State Salina’s Kurt Barnhart and Mark Blanks stopped into the KSAL Morning News on Wednesday with a look at the unmanned program that now boasts 12 small aircraft.

Blanks, the UAS Program Office Director, says most of the vehicles would fit in your living room, “They’re small helicopter and airplanes and weigh less than 55-pounds apiece,” he said.

Blanks added the high-tech hardware is attracting more and more student interest. “Right now we have 30 students enrolled in the major and about 50 to 100 taking classes who are just interested in the technology.”

As interest grows in the classroom, behind the scenes, Kurt Barnhart, the Applied Aviation Research Center Executive Director, says they are working to open the airspace over Salina.

Kansas State University is part of a team of three universities and multiple businesses competing to be named by the Federal Aviation Administration as one of six test sites for unmanned aircraft.

A best case scenario for K-State Salina students would be a green light from the FAA for unmanned aircraft to be tested primarily in airspace near Salina.

Although the term ‘Drones’ garners a somewhat mixed reaction from the public, Barnhart is confident all the positive applications for unmanned vehicles will win the day, “When you see drones on TV and they are shooting something or spying on somebody that really helps to convey a negative image,” he said.

“The positive image that we are moving into offers so many benefits to agriculture, industries like oil and gas and public safety.”

A recent Associated Press story cited a report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, predicting that Kansas will be among the Top 10 states in the country to see significant economic growth once unmanned aircraft systems are integrated into the national airspace system in 2015, based on anticipated sales, manufacturing and employment.

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