Drones set to hover in the Box Elder west desert

Sunday , August 10, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Tim Gurrister
Standard-Examiner staff

BRIGHAM CITY — Drones are on the horizon here.

Box Elder County has been approved for a $200,000 grant to develop a testing range for the remote-controlled, GPS-equipped, camera-bearing aircraft known mostly for their precision bombing work in Middle East conflicts.

But officials say the kind to be tested in the county’s west desert will be mostly the smaller, friendlier versions. More prone to map wetlands or assist search and rescue operations.

And they prefer to call them Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, just to avoid any confusion with their larger, more violent cousins, the Defense Department’s Predator drones.

“The kind we will be seeing, most are under 50 pounds with 14 horsepower engines,” said Mitch Zundel, county economic development director. “A lot of them can be launched just by throwing them.”

The grant money is coming from the Utah Cluster Accleration Partnership, a state government consortium devoted to high-tech development, and job training for same. UCAP gave the Bridgerland Applied Technology College a $175,000 grant last year to train students for robotics jobs at Autoliv, its announcement made at the Brigham City Autoliv plant.

The UAV training range is sited for a section of runway at rocket-maker ATK’s Promontory plant west of Corinne, Zundel said.

It will be operated in a partnership likely between the county, ATK and Utah State University. “We’ve gotten the verbal go-ahead from UCAP, we’re just waiting on the formal contract,” he said.

“The boost to economic development is that people will come in to use the test site and find they love Box Elder County.”

Utah’s various manufacturers of UAVs will use the facility, not the military, said Zundel and UCAP spokesman Nic Dunn, the state currently lacking in testing areas for drones.

“This came about to provide a place for commercial entities to be able to test UAVs,” Dunn said.

UCAP consists of the Utah System of Higher Education, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and the state Department of Workforce Services. Dunn is the DWS public information officer performing the same duties for UCAP.

UCAP is committed to a growing focus on high tech, Dunn said. “Utah is rising fast in the world of tech research and is poised to be an important player in UAV testing.

“So this will fill an unmet need for commercial testing, and help foster an important industry for Utah. We also expect some solid job growth in this field associated with this development.”

The budget for the $200,000 grant includes $125,000 for salaries to pay staff to work with the Federal Aviation Administration for the various approvals and certifications needed for the UAV test site, $55,000 for facilities, including runway resurfacing, $15,000 for communications gear, and $5,000 other various equipment and supplies.

Contact reporter Tim Gurrister at 801-625-4238, tgurrister@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @tgurrister

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