Unmanned aircraft test at Griffiss ‘went really well’


Elizabeth Cooper

The successful first test of an unmanned large aircraft at Griffiss International Airport last month may help solidify the area’s future in that field.

The twin engine general aviation-style aircraft recently was flown through the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR), the federally designated testing entity based at the airport.
“It went really well,” NUAIR Executive Director Lawrence Brinker said.

The Centaur, made by Aurora Flight Services, can carry four people and can be flown with a pilot or remotely; it was also the subject of a recent story on CNN.

Company spokesman Chip Sheller said he was present at the three-day testing period, and called NUAIR and Griffiss “flawless.”

“They have the perfect combination of highly skilled aviation experts, along with the facilities, including hangars, the right air space, you name it,” he said.

Sheller said it is “more than likely” the company will be back “very soon,” and that he had already told others in the industry his impressions.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if companies in the unmanned aircraft sector decide to open permanent facilities in Oneida County, given the resources and people available to make it successful there today,” he said.

Local officials have expressed a hope that the NUAIR test site could lead unmanned aircraft companies and researchers to locate nearby.

The test site designation was awarded in December 2013, and since then, operations at Griffiss have grown slowly.

The first craft tested were smaller in size, and many continue to be so.

But more big ones may be in store.

Lockheed Martin’s K-Max unmanned helicopter was there for a week this spring testing some new technology for firefighting, which the company plans to demonstrate soon to the federal Department of the Interior, Brinker said.

Additionally, all six testing sites are now working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The NASA testing may include work on Predator craft, and unmanned detect-and-avoid systems.

“All of this is really quite an advance,” he said. “By working with NASA and the FAA, all six expect that to open up opportunities to work with other federal agencies.”

A smaller private sector project to test a drone that checks high tension wires and gas pipelines is also ongoing, he said.

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