University of Alabama Leads Consortium to Secure Drone Test Site

DroneThe Federal Aviation Administration is planning to create six testing sites for Unmanned Aerial Systems, which are more commonly referred to as drones. And if the University of Alabama – Huntsville and the consortium of universities and businesses that its leading have their way, then one of those sites would be in a remote location in Tennessee.

The university is leading a team of other universities and businesses across Tennessee and Alabama to try to convince the FAA that this is the best spot for one of its six testing facilities, according to the Bradenton Herald. The facility in question currently houses the ISR Group’s Unmanned Aerial System Research and Test Center, which is located in Savannah, Tennessee. The FAA is looking for six sites throughout the country, but regulations prohibit those sites from being developed on property that is already owned and operated by the federal government, which is why the states of Alabama and Tennessee have teamed up to market this particular property.

If this site is chosen, the FAA would redevelop the property in order to do continual research and testing on incorporating drone flights within the United States airspace. Rather than using the drones as war machines, the researchers at this facility would try to come up with commercial uses for these unique aerial systems. For instance, the drones could possibly be used for agricultural purposes or even for monitoring the environment.

Landing the test site isn’t going to be an easy feat. During the first FAA proposal period, more than 50 different applications were received and more than 37 states were vying for one of these unique testing facilities to be located within their borders. Currently, the FAA has narrowed it down to 25 different proposals from 24 different states across the country, and it intends to make further cuts. Ultimately, the FAA will be deciding between 12 different sites.

However, the University of Alabama – Huntsville is working hard to make the cut. It’s leading a team of more than 160 different universities and corporations to help craft a proposal to redevelop the ISR Group site. This site has been operating for about three years, and tests drones on a regular basis. It’s important to note that these drones only fly over the testing site itself, which spans 10 square miles. The cameras on the drones are always pointed towards the ground.

The FAA will no doubt be considering each proposal quite seriously, and weighing in a variety of different factors before making its final decisions about which six sites will be the final destinations. For instance, the FAA will want to chose locations where aerospace manufacturers and other related industry corporations are in abundance. In addition to taking in the demographics of the area, the FAA officials plan to visit each prospective site throughout the months of September and October. After these in-person visits, the FAA officials will make their final decisions, with an announcement expected to come in December. If chosen, the Tennessee site would have to be functioning within six months.