FAA approves unmanned aircraft testing location


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has awarded two Certificates of Authorization (COA) for unmanned aircraft to fly in an 8,000-square-mile air space in the San Luis Valley, Colorado, USA to heights of 15,000ft. San Luis Valley’s Leach Airport in Center, Colorado, will be the primary operations hub for UAS testing in the valley, with participation by number of other airports scattered across the valley.

The FAA has approved two types of UAS for flight there: a 120-lb (54kg) vertical takeoff craft by Reference Technologies called the ‘Hummingbird’ and a smaller, battery-powered UAS being jointly developed by Black Swift Technologies and Swift Engineering. It can be hand-launched with a payload of up to 8 lb (3.6kg). 

According to Colorado University-Boulder aerospace engineering sciences Professor Brian Argrow, the collaborative effort to obtain the San Luis Valley air space from the FAA involved working closely with air traffic controllers at the Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center in Longmont to enable the UAS flights to be cleared up to 15,000feet. “We see this as a major accomplishment for UAS operations in Colorado,” said Argrow.

Black Swift Technologies and CU-Boulder, for example, recently completed the successful testing of a Tempest UAS carrying instruments to measure soil moisture, a project supported by a NASA Small Business Innovation Research Program. The technology could have far-reaching applications ranging from drought assessment and flood forecasting to water conservation.

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