As Kansas National Guard soldiers and airmen fanned out to help western Kansans deal with a massive ice storm in January 2007, their boss, Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, shared an idea with associates.
Bunting, who was then Kansas adjutant general, piqued the interests of Salina officials, including Dennis Kuhlman, who was CEO and dean of Kansas State University at Salina, to develop ways to help people by using high-tech, remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters. “He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we could patrol this area, find humans and animals stranded in the ice storm and we wouldn’t have to rely so much on manpower?’ ” recalled Kuhlman. “The whole concept, to use unmanned aerial vehicles with our emergency response, was basically what got things started.”
The opinions were further cemented in May that year, when an EF5 tornado ravaged Greensburg.
“I thought about having an eye in the sky, an airborne antenna over Greensburg,” Bunting said.
Just days after that, heavy rains made Saline County and other parts of Kansas disaster areas, prompting more brainstorming from a growing list of people.
The notion wasn’t new. UAVs had been discussed in Kansas long before 2007. A UAV consortium formed in 2005, said Col. Derek Rogers of the Kansas Air National Guard. He represented the Kansas National Guard at early meetings at the University of Kansas, and he said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., was in on discussions.
Kuhlman and Bunting have since retired, but the ideas planted years ago in Kansas are growing roots.
New flying machines
The KSU-Salina campus, well known for training students to fly and maintain aircraft, branched into unmanned systems, developed a curriculum and began to research the relatively new flying machines.