Description: You may not realize it, but across the United States, there are seven test sites for unmanned aircraft. Each site is FAA approved for commercial drone operators to test their products.
We went to check out one of the test sites located in the Pacific Northwest and run by the group SOAR Oregon. The site features distinctly different test ranges in Tillamook, Warm Springs and Pendelton. It’s that variety that SOAR Oregon Executive Director Earl Bowerman believes makes their site appealing.
“The real differentiator is access to airspace. We feel like Oregon’s positioned really well to showcase because of the variety of terrain that we have, as well as the cost of our operations.”
The Tillamook test range offers a coastal climate stretching nearly the entire western coast of Oregon, the Warm Springs site provides 1,000 square miles of mountain terrain and high elevation while clients needing farm or forest land would use the 14 thousand square mile Pendleton range.
“For us to go from eight customers last year to 48 this year, we’re seeing that we have what the customers are looking for in comparison to other places. We also have the airspace that a lot of other places don’t have. And the other part of the thing that’s attractive about Oregon is our test ranges have accommodations right on the test range in most cases.”
Two of the three SOAR Oregon ranges feature control towers and while two offer hangar space. The Tillamook site has both a control tower and a hangar for customers. Tillamook’s range is run by Near Space Corporation, which does plenty of high-altitude testing. The ability to fly at those altitudes is appealing to Tillamook’s clients.
“It’s really about who needs the additional airspace that we’re able to offer here at Near Space. We’re able to operate in Class A airspace, as well as operating at altitudes that you couldn’t at other off-test sites. So that attracts a lot of folks to come here and test their vehicles.”
SOAR Oregon is state funded and Bowerman meets once a month with state legislators to make sure that funding continues. Since its start in 2015, SOAR Oregon has received plenty of support both financially and otherwise from the state.
“The legislators in Oregon early on saw the opportunity for the UAS industry for Oregon and what it could complement other industries already here — super high tech, a lot of resources. A lot of those skillsets on the software and development side and engineering and manufacturing are already here.”
While Bowerman can’t discuss who his clients are or what types of UAS technology are being tested at their sites, he is excited about Oregon’s role in the future of the drone industry.
“Every time I read a magazine, every six months the projections go up in the billions. Last year it was projected to be about $82 billion. Then it got bumped up to $100 billion, now $127 billion industry. As soon as the FAA is able to coordinate a safety mindset and allow these drones to fly beyond visual line of sight, we’re going to see a huge change in our daily disruptive.”
As drone companies continue to test their products with an eye on the future, companies like SOAR Oregon will be helping them pave the way.
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