Massaachusetts UAS test center announces new leadership

By Luke Geiver | April 02, 2015

After issuing a request for proposal for an unmanned aviation-experienced team to manage a Massachusetts unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test center, MassDevelopment has selected a winner: Avwatch. Acting as the economic development department for the state, MassDevelopment had previously been in charge of running the UAS test ranges at Joint Base Cape Cod (JBCC). Avwatch, a Plymouth-based firm with experience in military and unmanned applications, will now run the test centers and help UAS firms practice flying or recording data during test-flights.

Carter Hunt, executive director of the UAS test ranges in the state, said he believes his team selected a company that was excited for the opportunity and capable of expanding the capabilities possible at the sites. “They had an extremely positive attitude about the sites and looked at the entire UAS industry as an exciting opportunity,” he said. But, although each of the other four applicants Hunt’s team review and interviewed to run the test sites shared the same sentiment, Avwatch can enhance the test site facilities. According to Hunt, the new management teams will set-up data collection nodes capable of transmitting radio and video from various locations throughout the state. Because the test center range cover the entire state, the nodes will make test flight data capture happening anywhere in the state quicker to receive and process.

The ability of Avwatch to transmit and handle data meshes well with the aim of the test centers, Hunt also said. Because airspace in the state is so congested, its partners in New York will be better equipped to offer long-range flight testing. The Massachusetts facilities are more apt to take advantage of the link between the region’s schools and the need for advanced data management and payload offerings.

Hunt has already talked to many companies working on light weight batteries, engine types and solar powered aircraft. One particular company is looking to develop a battery and gas powered engine system where the battery and gas engine charge each other for longer flight duration times. “We feel at some stage we will be the test bed for that activity. We see our growth to be in the miniaturization of things,” he said.

In the future, Hunt hopes the test center will have a few UAVs available for practice flights that test payloads are help future pilots learn how to operate. First responders, law enforcement and marine scientists have already practiced or set-up practice sessions at the test site.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s recent decision to offer blanket certificate of authorizations to UAS operators willing to fly at or below 300 feet will greatly help all test sites, Hunt said.  “It was an idea that the test sites formulated early on,” he said. “We were always hoping they would give us that opportunity.” With the new COA process, the test sites only have to email the FAA with a tail number or identification number assigned to the UAV along with a general flight plan and flight area before the fight takes place. “That is a huge step,” he said.

JBCC is a 22,000-acre military base.

Chris Kluckhuhn, founder and president of Avwatch, called the current state of the UAS industry critical, and, noted his team’s ability to help the industry evolve. “Our extensive experience makes us a turnkey provider to grow UAS operations in Massachusetts. We look forward  to working with our project partners to make Massachusetts a worldwide center of excellence for maritime UAS operations.”