By Jack Barnwell
Inyokern Airport enjoyed a successful turnout Saturday as it hosted its first Cal UAS Portal Day. The number of people in attendance soared higher than 5,000 as both locals from Ridgecrest and Inyokern and those from across the state nosed around vendors and displays.
The day started at 9 a.m. By noon, cars were parked on the side of Highway 178 leading to Highway 14, with people hiking in.
Air shows provided one of the highlights of the day, including a flyover by Chip Yates in his electric plane.
Spectators lined the fence to watch as the West Coast Ravens took off in pairs to perform aerial shows in the sky above the airport.
Kern County Fire and Sheriff’s departments were out in force as well, showing off vehicles and gear for everyone to enjoy. ATAC had on display an L-39 Albatross, a Czech-designed jet fighter.
Hangar One, one of the airport’s more recent additions, was packed with vendors showing off unmanned aerial vehicles.
The goal of Cal UAS Portal Day was to educate the public on what it was doing in unmanned systems, as well as what Inyokern Airport has to offer.
Cal UAS Portal is one of several teams applying for one of six Federal Aviation Administration test site designations. With the designation comes an opportunity to help pave the way for the FAA’s goal to integrate UAVs into the national airspace by 2015.
Eileen Shibley, director of Cal UAS Portal, said she was excited to see the turnout for the event.
“We knew that we always had the support of the community, but this is proof positive that this community knows what we’re about in Unmanned Systems at Inyokern Airport,” Shibley said. Shibley said the event fell on a great time, two years to the month that Cal UAS Portal first decided to pursue a test site designation. She said support from local, state and federal leaders have all been extremely helpful.
“I cannot express the gratitude to our elected representatives,” Shibley said.
Those local, state and federal leaders took the stage Saturday morning, including Congressman Kevin McCarthy, California state Sen. Jean Fuller and Assemblywoman Shannon Grove.
McCarthy said Inyokern had all the necessary elements the FAA is considering for a test site — including airspace, a diverse terrain and brainpower.
“To us here, we know it’s a no-brainer that this be a test site, but we need to show it,” McCarthy said. “The idea of putting this event on here, with people from San Diego and clear across the country wanting to come here is a clear indication.”
Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason credited the Cal UAS Portal team with building such a successful infrastructure at Inyokern Airport and making it a serious contender for a test site designation.
In Hangar One, people milled around various displays, including several helicopters and multi-rotor UAVs at Dr. Tim Dawson’s booth. Jeff Parisse, the head of Cal UAS Portal’s farming branch, and his partner Scott Brown, highlighted some of the advantages UAVs had when coupled with photogrammetry sensors — a technology already used in manned aerial surveys of farms and orchards.
Paul Pippen, one of the people in attendance, said he was impressed by the event, including the air shows and some of the hands-on activities for the kids.
“The hands-ons for the kids — the next generation of engineers — is a really great aspect of this event,” Pippen said.
Loren Culp, an engineer, was checking out the Parisse Aviation to see how photogrammetry technology might be applied to city streets.
“I’m just on sensory overload,” Culp said. “This is just an incredible technological wonderland of what’s going to be available in unmanned aircraft; there’s just so much potential.”
Neil and Melissa Christman said they were impressed with the high turnout of people for the event.
“The neatest thing I think is how much support that Cal UAS is getting from the local community,” Neil Chirstman said. “It’s also neat to see a lot of the technology exhibited will allow the community to understand it better and get behind it more.”
Jim Paris, vice president of Inyokern Airport’s Board of Directors, said the turnout was impressive.
“I’m just amazed at the community support,” Paris said. “This opens the light up that we’re still here. I think the airport was a forgotten spot until we actually had this open house.”
Patrick Egan from the Silicon Valley Chapter of Association for Unmanned Systems International, also appeared impressed by the turnout on Saturday.
“My hat’s off to Eileen (Shibley), because I think there isn’t anyone else that could have pulled this off and pulled everyone into the circus tent like she has,” Egan said. “There’s a great facility out here and the turnout is great.”
Egan came from Sacramento for the day to “see what the private test center model is like.” He added that the technology represented at the show presented a wide spectrum and that there were a number of people that “are energetic and passionate about technology.”