Oklahoma chosen as test site for drones

Small unmanned aircraft systems will be tested to help first responders deal with natural disasters and other emergencies in the restricted air space over Fort Sill near Lawton.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: June 29, 2012
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Helping ground forces

Deering, who at one point commanded 23,000 soldiers from several states that responded to destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said additional aerial surveillance would have helped save lives and direct forces on the ground in New Orleans.

“Real-life imagery is vitally important to saving lives and preserving property,” Deering said.

“The availability of unmanned aircraft would have afforded us the capability to more quickly map out areas where we were more immediately needed, instead of depending on dated satellite imagery.”

Drones could be used more readily and economically for search-and-rescue operations, he said. The hourly cost of flying a National Guard helicopter is about $5,400.

Economic impact

Stephen McKeever, who serves as secretary of science and technology on Fallin's Cabinet, said the restricted air space near Fort Sill was a key asset in landing the testing program in Oklahoma.

“This relationship that we have with Fort Sill is vital to the development of this industry within the state,” he said.

It's hard to provide an estimate on the number of jobs that will be involved with the program, McKeever said.

“Those jobs are all high quality and highly paid, highly technical and skilled jobs,” he said.

“Certainly it will support a number of positions and even new positions. But it will also support additional jobs relating to some of the entities that will have to come to Oklahoma in order to test the equipment.”

The program has the potential to be a significant economic development for Oklahoma, McKeever said.

“This part ... of aerospace is only going to grow,” he said.

“When it becomes more open for commercial activity, we aim for Oklahoma to be extremely well positioned to be certainly one of the go-to states for the development of this industry.”