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Tribes set to launch UAVs

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Eagle Tech Systems preparing four sites on reservation


SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tom Normandy, test range manager for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs' Eagle Tech Systems, gets ready to launch the Aeromapper during a recent demonstration.Two years after the Warm Springs Reservation was approved as a test range for unmanned aerial vehicles, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs will launch its first official flight Friday.

The tribally owned Eagle Tech Systems, a subsidiary of Warm Springs Ventures, will celebrate the historic launch on Friday, Feb. 19, at 1:30 p.m. at the Metolius Bench operational site, about 14 miles southwest of Warm Springs.

The University of Alaska's Aeromapper, which looks like a small airplane, will be launched from a short runway, according to Aurolyn Stwyer, business development and marketing manager for Warm Springs Ventures.

"The pilot literally runs and thrusts it from his hand," said Stwyer, who has been working with the program for the past four months.

During that time, she has become excited by the potential for the tribes in the growing UAV field, including testing drones for use in fire suppression, search and rescue, agriculture, surveillance of power lines, and natural resource management.

"We are in a unique position in the growing unmanned aerial systems industry," she said. "As a sovereign nation, we offer ease of services at our test ranges. For example, we have the ability to have controlled burns without having to get certifications or approvals with any outside entity. We are focused on becoming a Center of Excellence for wildland fire management."

Eagle Tech Systems, which is in charge of developing the test range on the reservation, is working on four test sites on the reservation. In addition to the Metolius Bench site, which already has infrastructure in place, the tribes are developing a site at Wolfe Point, northeast of Warm Springs, and two at Sidwalter, northwest of Warm Springs.

The sites need power and broadband, all-weather access, some type of shelter, and a short runway.

"The drones operate with batteries that need to be recharged, and they like to download data," she said, noting that a data drone might measure the height and density of agricultural or natural resource products and then feed the information to a farmer or someone who works for natural resources.

The tribes are planning to remodel the former Indian Head gaming office at Kah-Nee-Ta to accommodate test pilots, who are already enthusiastic about the location.

"We have longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures," said Stwyer. "The pilots love it in Warm Springs."

For the remodel at Kah-Nee-Ta, the tribes have obtained a grant of $500,000 from Business Oregon's Infrastructure Finance Authority, and another $500,000 from the state's revolving loan fund, which is forgiveable if the tribes meet certain employment criteria over the next five years.

Drone pilots and potential pilots will be able to stay at the Kah-Nee-Ta training center, earn their certificates of authorization to fly in about two weeks, fly at the test range, evaluate their test drones, and, if necessary, train other pilots.

"Once we build the training center, it will be a fully turn-key operation," said Stwyer.

In January 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration approved six test sites across the country, including the Pan-Pacific Test Site, which includes Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii — the most diverse site approved.

The Pan-Pacific Test Site includes three test sites in Oregon — on the Warm Springs Reservation, and in Tillamook and Pendleton.

Most of the approved sites are at military bases.

"These pilots are flying at test ranges that are mostly military, in remote locations, and sleeping in tents," said Stwyer. "The beauty of what we have is you can see our test range from the training center."

The inaugural launch is open to the public. To get to the Metolius Bench site, turn left (southwest) off U.S. Highway 26 at Eagle Crossing Restaurant onto Jackson Trail Road. The site will be about 14 miles from the turnoff.