Air Force to launch new UAV program


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May 4, 2008
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Air Force to launch new UAV program

Read more: Air Force to launch new UAV program | Dayton Business Journal

Scott Sullivan, president of SelectTech Services Corp., is among the Dayton-area business leaders who say their companies can get a boost from the new UAS effort at Wright-Patt.

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A new $2.2 million development effort at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is heating up the race to make the Dayton region a hub for unmanned aerial systems, also known as UAS’s.

Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patt recently began taking proposals for a new UAS program, dubbed SURGE-V, to meet a growing need for longer missions from vehicles that are under 20 pounds. Traditionally, small class UAS’s have been limited by endurance and payload capacity, so the SURGE-V is attempt to build a craft that can operate more than four hours while taking several pounds of additional payload.

The Air Force anticipates using the new UAS for tasks such as clearing convoy routes and seizing airfields. Currently, a majority of those missions are handled by heavier categories of UAS’s, which require more support.

“There’s a whole slew of opportunities in the small and medium (unmanned aerial vehicle) market right here at AFRL,” said Scott Sullivan, the president of Centerville-based SelectTech Services Corp., an engineering and technical services company, and SelectTech GeoSpatial, which has an advanced manufacturing plant in Springfield.

Local businessmen and economic development officials say the new research program is an example of the growing amount of UAS-related work coming out of Wright-Patt, which could be a catalyst for bringing companies and jobs to the Dayton area. Although groups have been working for years to build interest in the region, the UAS effort appears to be gaining steam as more development contracts and big-ticket orders for existing craft are coming out of the base. In just the past few weeks, the Air Force issued the SURGE-V request and placed a $148 million order with California-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for 24 MQ-9 Reaper. General Atomics, which makes the Predator drone as well as the Reaper, has 5,000 employees and has been a big player in the military aeronautics field since it was founded in 1955 as a division of General Dynamics Corp. (NYSE: GD).

Among the major players that have a presence in the Dayton region are Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA), which started a UAS unit several years ago; Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT), which makes the Desert Hawk and Samurai UAVs; Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC), which is developing a new, multi-purpose UAV; and BAE Systems.

The new emphasis at Wright-Patt has local entrepreneurs such as Sullivan answering proposals for UAS work on a regular basis these days for AFRL and as a subcontractor for larger defense contractors.

Among its endeavors, SelectTech is working on sense-and-avoid technology, which Sullivan said will ultimately drive how the FAA crafts rules for UAS flight in the United States.

Currently, flight tests can be done, but only under very restricted conditions set by the Federal Aviation Administration. In the last year or so, there has been a push for FAA to allow UAS flights on a more widespread basis around places such as the Springfield Air National Guard Base.

Joe Zeis, vice president and chief strategist for the Dayton Development Coalition, has been preaching that the FAA’s blessing or less restrictive UAS flights for testing purposes would be the “Holy Grail” when it comes what the Dayton region needs to draw a flurry of investment in the industry.

U.S. Rep Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek, has been meeting with FAA during the last year and is eyeing a house amendment to part of transportation bill that would help accelerate the FAA approval process for permitting UAS flights in certain areas. He said Ohio’s Senator’s are also working on legislation to accomplish that goal.

“We’re trying to convince the FAA that what we’ve got going on at AFRL makes sense and that safety has also been taken into account,” Austria said.

As part of promoting the area as a prime location for UAS development and production, the coalition is working to be a matchmaker between local businesses and prime contractors.

That’s because the Dayton region is home to smaller, but unique companies that could play a key role in drawing big players here, said Colleen Ryan, vice president of aerospace and defense for the coalition.

Proposals for the SURGE-V program, which falls under AFRL’s Propulsion Directorate, are due March 11.

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