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Unmanned Aerial Testing Group Launches In Michigan

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An unmanned aerial vehicle design from Merrill Group of Saginaw.

An unmanned aerial vehicle design from Merrill Group of Saginaw.

ALPENA (WWJ) – More than 100 aviation industry, economic development and government officials gathered Thursday in this Lake Huron port and manufacturing city for the kickoff of the Michigan Advanced Aerial Systems Consortium.

The group is pushing to have the Federal Aviation Administration name Alpena as one of just six national unmanned aerial systems test sites in the country. There are currently 25 applicants.

The consortium submitted its application May 6, and the FAA is to make its picks by December.

Aaron Johnson, industry business development manager at the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and Tom Mullaney, an Alpena County commissioner and vice chair of the consortium, said Thursday’s event was intended to kick off the consortium and begin the lobbying to get Alpena named one of the six sites.

More than 150 supply chain companies, legislators, local partners and economic development agencies were invited to attend, and 117 pre-registered, Johnson said.

Alpena’s major assets in the effort are an Air National Guard base, the Combat Readiness Training Command, that has a 9,000-foot runway and the capacity for additional use. The CRTC also features the latest advanced radar, a huge ramp that can accommodate three flying squadrons, and a multitude of operational training sites; specialized flight management equipment, security training, communication training, and fire, emergency and medical services training.

The Michigan bid also touts Alpena’s position in a huge swatch of airspace prioritized for military use — the largest such patch of airspace in America east of the Mississippi River. That 20,000 square miles of airspace stretches from the tip of Michigan’s Thumb across the state to the Wisconsin border, and extends northward to the Canadian border.

The effort also touts Michigan’s advanced research universities and its highly skilled, engineer-heavy work force. It’s true that those advantages aren’t particularly close to Alpena, but Johnson noted that the rules for the test centers prohibit them from being close to busy commercial airspace, which rules out the Detroit area.

Alpena also offers the advantages of being able to offer cold weather testing, high humidity testing, and proximity to fresh water.

While unmanned aerial vehicles have won headlines most recently for their controversial military role, organizers of the consortium say their use is predicted to skyrocket in a number of civilian applications as well, including energy companies inspecting their infrastructure, state regulators for monitoring wildlife and natural resources, the film industry, and the agricultural industry for crop and forest monitoring.

The consortium has also scheduled the 2013 Michigan UAS Conference for Oct. 28-30 at the Sheraton Ann Arbor. Organizers say the event will showcase various UAS technologies and real life applications, and will feature key industry leaders to discuss the future of the UAS industry in Michigan and the integration of UASs in the National Airspace System.

The guest speaker lineup features industry leaders including: Paul McDuffee, Government Relations & Strategy of Insitu Inc., Ted Wierzbanowski, Chairman of the ASTM F-38 UAS Standards Committee; Gilles Laflamme, Director Mission Solutions of CAE Inc., Marc Moffatt, Manager R&D of Unmanned Aerial Systems Center of Excellence (Alma, Canada) and Dr. Ella Atkins, Associate Professor and Director of the Autonomous Aerospace Systems Lab at the University of Michigan.

MIAASC will also be exhibiting at the upcoming AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems) conference in Washington, D.C. Aug. 12-15. AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems Conference is recognized as the leading event for the unmanned systems marketplace with more than 8,000 attendees and 550-plus exhibitors from more than 40 countries. MIAASC will have a booth in partnership with Northwestern Michigan College and will be introducing the new organization to the FAA and other industry leaders.

For more information on the effort, visit http://www.michiganuasflighttestcenter.com.

Thursday’s event in Alpena concluded with a PUMA UAS flight demonstration, flown by Naval Special Warfare personnel. During the flight, attendees were given the unique opportunity to watch a live feed of what the aircraft was viewing on a large screen TV with a MOVER-6, as they listened to the flight activities narrated over a PA system.

Among the organizations involved in the effort are the Great Lakes Chapter of the AUVSI, Northwestern Michigan College, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the University of Michigan, Michigan Technological University, Western Michigan University, Alpena County, the MEDC, the Michigan National Guard, GE Aviation, Wyle, the Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association, and the Upper Michigan Green Aircraft Coalition.

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