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Oklahoma leaders are poised to launch drone research and development efforts

Unmanned aircraft, or drones, are poised to quickly move from the military domain to a vast array of commercial applications. For now, however, the industry is restrained by strict Federal Aviation Administration regulations that ban most business use.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: May 24, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: May 24, 2014


photo - 
James Grimsley, president and CEO of Design Intelligence Incorporated, holds up a quad copter while talking about drone research and development in Oklahoma during a meeting at the Tinker Business and Industrial Park Monday, April 28, 2014. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman
  PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND - 
PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND
James Grimsley, president and CEO of Design Intelligence Incorporated, holds up a quad copter while talking about drone research and development in Oklahoma during a meeting at the Tinker Business and Industrial Park Monday, April 28, 2014. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND - PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND

The FAA has said it will begin relaxing unmanned aircraft restrictions later this year.

The process likely will be completed in phases beginning with rural areas and moving into cities.

Drones in Oklahoma

To best take advantage of the reduced restrictions, the Tinker Business and Industrial Park has created the Unmanned Systems Innovation Center, which will test business and other uses for drones in the state. The center is focusing on uses in agriculture, oil and natural gas pipelines, utilities, emergency first responders and weather forecasting.

“When the Air Force began to train more pilots on unmanned systems than manned systems, that was the acid test in what the future holds,” Thomas said. “We became convinced that what we need is a sense of place, a place you can congregate and collaborate different elements of an industry in a single location.”

The research center hopes to build on the experience the state already has enjoyed with unmanned aircraft.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012 chose Oklahoma for its unmanned aircraft testing and training facility.

The Oklahoma Training Center-Unmanned Systems facility near Elgin tests systems to aid in public safety drone missions.

The state last year missed out on becoming home to one of six FAA test sites for unmanned aircraft.

“The state plan we have developed and outlined did not include being selected as an FAA test site. We did make the effort because we could see it would be an added bonus, but the fact we were not selected is not going to deviate us from the strategy we started upon,” McKeever said.

“We have worked with other federal agencies. We are looking at discussions with FAA and Homeland Security about the next phase of the Homeland Security test program.”

While McKeever and his team had hoped the state would be selected for an FAA site, he said there are some advantages to having been passed over.

“Those six test sites will be focused on developing technologies and procedures for safe integration into the national airspace,” McKeever said. “We can now focus on the application of the technology. We will develop the applications and be in position to take advantage of that when it opens up.”

by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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Top: James Grimsley, president and CEO of Design Intelligence Incorporated, holds up an MK4 model drone used in wind tunnel tests while talking during an April 28 meeting at the Tinker Business and Industrial Park.

Above: Warren Thomas, managing partner of Tinker Business and Industrial Park, talks during the meeting about drone research and development in Oklahoma while pointing to a map of Green Valley Farms near Lexington. Photos by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman/

Illustration by Chris Schoelen, The Oklahoman Graphics

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