by Steve Fair
One of the potential ‘game changer’ industries Fallin mentioned was the unmanned aircraft industry. “One such area today is the unmanned aerial systems program,” Fallin said. “Aerospace remains a key industry for our state, with more than 500 aerospace companies offering potential for growth and economic impact.” The Sooner state has about 360 flying days a year, so it is a great place for UAVs to be developed and tested.
Unmanned aircraft has a history in Oklahoma. The Maritime Vertical Takeoff and Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System or MAVUS I was completed at Ft. Sill in 1992. That drone named, ‘The Sentinel’ successfully demonstrated the first free-flight autonomous landing of a UAV.
According to the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Association the advantages to using unmanned aircraft is the drones do not contain, or need a qualified pilot on board and can enter environments that are dangerous to human life. They can also stay in the air for up to 30 hours and can be programmed to complete a mission even if contact with the drone is lost.
Some are saying it’s not that far into the future when commercial aircraft will have no on-board pilot, but a UAV pilot on the ground flying the plane remotely. The cost savings by eliminating the cockpit area would save carriers millions and would virtually eliminate the chance of a hijacking like what occurred in the 9-11 attacks.
In fact Federal Express, the world’s largest air freight carriers, has said concerning UAVs, "'FedEx is always interested in new technology that will help us improve service to our customers, but we do not disclose the nature of our research."
Call me old fashioned, but I want the pilot on-board/up front in any plane I’m flying on.
In 2010, Oklahoma State University, through the University Multispectral Laboratories (UML), received a five-year U.S. Navy contract worth up to $44 million to test and design unmanned aerial systems. The work is being conducted at the UML in Ponca City, on the OSU-Stillwater campus, and at UML sites in Lawton. The contract will lead to the creation of 90 new jobs over the next five years
UAVs perform a wide variety of functions and not just for the defense department. Most drones are currently used for some form of remote sensing. Less common UAV functions for the military include interaction and transport of supplies. Most everyone has heard of the MQ-1 Predator UAV which is armed with missiles and used for offensive purposes, but Predators have also been used to perform search and rescue and damage assessment. After hurricanes in Texas and Louisiana, the drones were sent up to 29,000 feet to gather information about the damage on the ground. The Predator has a sophisticated all-weather sensor capable of providing photographic-like images through clouds, rain or fog, and in daytime, so it is invaluable to officials as they access damage and what is happening on the ground.