Drones may soon fly from Lawton to Clinton
July 11, 2011
LAWTON, Okla. - Groundwork is being done to establish an “air corridor” that would allow for flights of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) between Lawton-Fort Sill and the Clinton-Sherman Airport in Clinton.
If the corridor becomes a reality, it would be the only one in the U.S. in which UAVs would be allowed to routinely fly at higher altitudes without special permission through airspace controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration. It also would represent an important next step in Oklahoma’s quest to become a key player in the rapidly expanding industry of UAVs and unmanned aerial systems.
Stephen McKeever is Oklahoma’s secretary of science and technology and also the executive director of the Oklahoma State University Multispectral Laboratory (UML), the organization that worked with the Defense Department in 2006 to locate a UAV-dedicated airport in Lawton-Fort Sill. In emailed responses to questions posed by The Lawton Constitution, he described an industry poised for “exponential growth” with great potential to attract investment and jobs.
“I think Lawton citizens can expect to see new UAVrelated companies establishing a presence in Oklahoma in general and in the Lawton area in particular as our facilities become more widely known and as the UAV industry grows,” McKeever said.
Locating the Oklahoma Training Center for Unmanned Systems west of Lawton and adjacent to Fort Sill made perfect sense because airspace over Fort Sill isn’t subject to the same FAA rules governing UAV flights in civil airspace. The UML has an agreement with the Army to use some of Fort Sill’s airspace to fly UAVs virtually at any time to a height of up to 40,000 feet.
The Lawton-Fort Sill facility has seen increasing activity in the five years since it was established. Now, the FAA has been asked to issue a certificate of authorization allowing for flights of a UAV called a TigerShark in and out of Clinton-Sherman. If that’s granted, McKeever said a second certificate would be applied for to allow for flights of TigerSharks between Clinton-Sherman and Lawton-Fort Sill. If both certificates are issued, a process likely to take months, he said Tiger-Sharks would then be put to work in the air corridor testing electronic instrument landing systems.
“The corridor is part of an overall plan in which OSU and the UML are working in partnership with the FAA to use UAVs to assist the FAA in testing electronic instrument landing systems at all commercial airports in the U.S. and elsewhere,” he said. “The (certificates of authorization) will help, ultimately, to open the national airspace to unmanned vehicle flights.”The FAA has been mandated to come up with a strategy by 2015 for opening up the national airspace to UAVs.
As the industry expands, McKeever said, it’s hoped that the Oklahoma air corridor might be used for testing of other types of UAVs and UAV technologies.
“All together, this is part of Oklahoma’s plan to develop the infrastructure within the state in a coordinated fashion to attract UAV manufacturers to use Oklahoma as the center of their test and evaluation plans,” he said. “Truly exponential growth will happen when U.S. airspace is opened to UAVs.”
McKeever said the planned corridor does not cross flight paths or other commercial airways, and UAV flights along the corridor would have no impact on training at Fort Sill.