Sabrewing, Alaska tribe to develop Bering Sea UAS test site

By Patrick C. Miller | March 25, 2019

Sabrewing Aircraft Co. and a native Alaskan tribe have signed an agreement to test 10 aircraft—both manned and unmanned—at a site centered on Saint Paul Island in the Bering Sea 770 miles west of Anchorage.

The Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (ACSPI) and Saberwing will create one of the largest aircraft test ranges in North America. The deal for the aircraft test range and a joint venture aircraft logistics company is valued at up to $43 million, according to Saberwing. The site will be known as the St. Paul Experimental Test Range (SPxTR or Spectre) Complex.

The Aleut Unangan Tribe is located on St. Paul and St. George, Pribilof Islands. Under the tribe’s agreement with Saberwing, aircraft tested will include the 800-pound-payload Rhaegal and the 4,400-pound-payload Wyvern. The new test range was created by ACSPI following the ratification of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Bill by Congress last fall.

Amos Philemonoff, ACSPI tribal Council president, said the tribe now tests small drones on the island under the FAA Reauthorization Act, but will establish its own test range to serve the flight test needs of the Department of Defense and UAS industry.

“When we first saw St. Paul Island, we fell in love with the quiet serenity of the location, the ability to test our aircraft in a location with hundreds of thousands of square miles of test range, and the friendly, family-like attitude of the people there,” said ED De Reyes, Saberwing CEO.  

Under the agreement, Sabrewing will provide equipment and training enabling the ACSPI community to initiate and operate a complete test range complex. St. Paul Island—centered in the Bering Sea—is about 230 miles north of Unalaska-Dutch Harbor. Sabrewing is also providing portable, remote operations and telemetry stations for aircraft testing. The company will provide the test equipment to allow the ACSPI to operate the test complex for other customers.

Sabrewing will use the SPxTR Complex to conduct research and development on its aircraft designs, as well as conduct FAA certification of its aircraft.  “It’s the best large UAV test range that I’ve ever seen in the 31 years that I’ve been testing and certifying aircraft,” De Reyes said.

Sabrewing and ACSPI are also creating a joint venture corporation to provide UAS pilot training, maintenance and dispatcher training, and aircraft replacement and spare parts. The joint venture provides a vehicle for military and governmental contracting. Under this agreement, Sabrewing will build and sell or lease its cargo aircraft to commercial customers. The joint venture will train the aircraft’s remote operators, mechanics and dispatchers.