FAA approves UAS testing in San Luis Valley skies

Monday November 2, 2015 0 comments Tags: UAS, drones, FAA, Brian Argrow, CU-Boulder, Grand Challenge, Black Swift Technolo, Swift Engineering, Reference Technologi, Jack Elston, Maciej Stachura, Cory Dixon


SAN LUIS VALLEY -- A collaborative effort involving six counties, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the nonprofit aerospace advocacy group UAS Colorado has paved the way for the launch and testing of two unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the San Luis Valley.UAS_logoSIZE

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has awarded two Certificates of Authorization for the aircraft to fly in an 8,000-square-mile air space in the San Luis Valley at heights up to 15,000 feet, CU said.

San Luis Valley’s Leach Airport in Center, Colo. will be the primary operations hub for the UAS testing with participation by other airports scattered across the valley, according to Alamosa County Attorney Jason Kelly.

The FAA approved tests for two types of UAS: a 120-pound vertical takeoff craft known as the Reference Technologies Hummingbird, and a smaller, battery-powered UAS being jointly developed by Black Swift Technologies and Swift Engineering.

Reference Technologies is based in Lafayette and Black Swift Technologies is headquartered in Boulder.

Black Swift is a startup founded by CU-Boulder alumni Jack Elston, Maciej Stachura and Cory Dixon.

The collaborative effort to obtain testing authority in the San Luis Valley involved working closely with air traffic controllers at the Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center in Longmont, according to Brian Argrow, CU-Boulder aerospace engineering sciences professor.

“We see this as a major accomplishment for UAS operations in Colorado,” Argrow said.

In 2012, Argrow led the CU portion of an unsuccessful effort to have Colorado designated as one of six FAA UAS test sites. However, the effort did lead to a statewide push to acquire a test site that was heavily supported by Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., Adams County Economic Development Corp. and several state-based companies and individuals.

In September, CU-Boulder announced a university-wide “Grand Challenge” to build on the university’s strengths in aerospace and technology. As part of the Challenge, CU-Boulder is investing $2 million in a new initiative called the Integrated Remote and In-Situ Sensing Initiative to use UAS – drones – to enhance research data collection from the ground, in the atmosphere and in space.