A&M-Corpus leads Texas effort to test drones for feds

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is leading the Texas effort to be named one of six U.S. test sites for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, officials said.

On Oct. 1, the university unveiled its new command and control center in preparation for winning that designation, spokeswoman Gloria Gallardo said Tuesday. The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to announce the winners in December, she said.

The university is still developing the control center, which is expected to eventually control all drone test ranges around the state, Luis Cifuentes, the school’s vice president of research, commercialization and outreach, said in a prepared statement.

A&M-Corpus Christi’s Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Initiative, which has access to 6,000 square miles of approved airspace, is the only Texas program under FAA consideration as a drone testing site, Gallardo said.

Gov. Rick Perry named the university the lead agency for the proposal this spring, she said.

“We’re getting all of the resources across the state together and saying, ‘What is it that will put Texas above the other states?’ ” Gallardo said.

The university’s partners in the program include Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station in College Station,Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, the Camber Corp. and American Aerospace Advisors Inc., which manufactures the RS-16 drone used by A&M-Corpus.

Texas has an advantage of having various types of terrain that would be part of the test site, including desert, coastland and snowy plains, Gallardo said.

“We think that gives us an edge on some other states to get this site,” she said.

In addition to being in the competition for test-site selection, A&M-Corpus Christi already has an existing unmanned aerial vehicle research program, which conducted its first drone flight in May 2012, Gallardo said.

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