Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s research division took a bold step in late 2012 by leading a statewide effort to win federal designation as a test site for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). TAMU-CC led a team of 16 public- and private-sector entities that submitted Texas’ bid to be one of six test sites reporting to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The effort builds upon the university’s previous UAS research experience and opened collaboration with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), bringing new opportunities for technological commercialization and economic development for the Coastal Bend region of Texas.
The University launched its first UAS mission in 2011 with an RS-16 Arcturus aircraft modified for research by a private-sector partner. In March 2013, the UAV captured images of the terrain around the Gulf of Mexico in visible, infrared, and ultraviolet frequency ranges using an onboard spectral camera. The images provided researchers with data that can be used to study algae distribution along the Gulf coast.
The FAA proposal establishes the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence with TEES as a major partner. The proposal establishes test ranges from South Texas to the Big Bend region with a command and control center at the university’s Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center in Flour Bluff.
An FAA UAS test site will be a boon for Texas’ aviation industry and a magnet for UAS industry. The University, however, is committed to UAS technological research and industrial development even without the test-site designation.
“UAS research and development promises to be what some are calling the next ‘Kitty Hawk moment’ in aviation history,” said University President Dr. Flavius Killebrew. “For the sake of our economic growth, Texas must be a player.”