Colorado’s San Luis Valley lands new drone flight test site

Colorado’s San Luis Valley lands new drone flight test site

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By Laura Keeney  The Denver Post

Colorado has the OK to open a flight test site for unmanned aerial systems — or UAS, more commonly called drones — in the San Luis Valley.

A consortium led by non-profit industry advocate UAS Colorado, the University of Colorado and representatives from six counties got the FAA green light for the 8,000-square-mile test site, hubbed at Leach Airport in the tiny town of Center, northeast of Del Norte.

The drones will be run through endurance, ease-of-operation and instrument performance tests to evaluate their potential commercial applications, said CU aerospace engineering sciences professor Brian Argrow.

“It’s a high valley, surrounded by high mountains, so there’s all sorts of terrain for testing,” he said. “For example, you might want to do search and rescue in the mountains, so you want to make sure you have a UAS that will perform at a high altitude.”

The group behind the San Luis Valley site worked with air traffic controllers at the Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center in Longmont to gain FAA authorization for flights up to 15,000 feet in altitude.

The first two drones to be tested were made in Colorado: the 120-pound Hummingbird, made by Reference Technologies in Lafayette, and a smaller craft made by Boulder-based Black Swift Technologies that can carry payloads up to 8 pounds.

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