After two years of persistent work around the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) industry, the Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation (SVEDF) is experiencing the payoff for their unwavering efforts. Today they announced the launch of their Cochise County unmanned aircraft systems testing and training facility dubbed Four Pillars.
“We’re ecstatic about having our work finally materialize. A lot of economic development is done behind the scenes and often years of work are hidden until all of the pieces are securely in place. We’re honored to be able to showcase one of the projects we’ve been working on over the past couple of years”, says Executive Director Mignonne Hollis.
SVEDF Executive Director Mignonne Hollis began her work with the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) in early 2011 to secure Arizona as one of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designated UAS test sites within the United States. She was named President of the Arizona Test Range Complex UAS Industry Consortium by the ACA and served as the contact for the Southeastern Region.
In addition to the instrumental work done by the ACA, local technical service and consulting firm Thompson-Wimmer, Inc. provided their expertise by writing a substantial portion of the State Test Site bid to the FAA.
“All-in-all it was an impressive effort on everyone’s part. We had some very talented individuals working to secure Arizona as a test site”, says Hollis. “We leveraged the earlier great work done by the ACA in the FAA bid, and included portions of the Research Consortium, the Arizona Labs, the Industry Consortium and the safety and operational concepts into our test range.”
On December 30th the FAA announced their selection of six test sites that would aid in developing a plan for safely integrating commercial UAS into United States airspace; however, Arizona did not make the selection.
“Honestly, we weren’t worried. We already had a backup plan in place and not being part of the FAA’s selection wasn’t going to hinder it in any way. We were ready to move forward with our own test site”, says Hollis.
The facility is located on 160 acres with two runways and will target smaller companies who are in the experimental stages of their product.
SVEDF is working on partnering with Southeastern Arizona Economic Development Group (SAEDG) Director George Scott to include the Benson Municipal Airport as a second location for runway space and may eventually include the Bisbee Douglas International Airport as the test site develops.
“We want to be able to send companies over to the Benson airport or the Bisbee Douglas airport as well”, says Hollis. “The more runways we have the better. We want to put all of the usable airspace in Cochise County to good use.”
SVEDF envisions the test site as a place where UAS companies can go to test, train, and learn. With this vision in mind, they have been speaking with Mesa Economic Development Project Manager Shea Joachim about partnering with AZ Labs in Mesa, Arizona to provide virtual lab capabilities and major Arizona universities such as the University of Arizona to bring an educational element to the site.
The ideal university would help to incubate start-up robotic and unmanned systems ventures in testing, business development research, and support efforts in the engineering and product development sectors. “The test site is going to strengthen our county because it’s not only using resources we already have available, but it’s also bringing in a new industry and connections”, says Cochise County Board of Supervisor Richard Searle.
Companies from across the nation have voiced their intent to utilize the site as soon as the “doors are open”. One such company is Tucson based Cyclone ADG, LLC, which not only wants to test their UAS product at the site, but also brings with them an association with the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
Other interested companies come from such states as California, North Dakota and New Mexico. In addition to support from companies across the nation, the test site has received tremendous support by officials and educational organizations.
“In order to turn the economy around in Arizona we need to show companies we’re open for business and what we have is valuable. The test site fits in perfectly with that goal and I fully support the efforts”, says State Senator Gail Griffin.
With such an elaborate and innovative vision, the test site will need to be managed by a highly capable organization. SVEDF has chosen Thompson-Wimmer, Inc. as their management for the test site. Thompson-Wimmer is the nation’s leading technical services provider and consulting firm in assisting Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) entities with safe integration into national airspace.
“I worked closely with both Trish Thompson and Brian Wimmer while we were working on the State Test Site bid to the FAA, so I was able to experience their invaluable level of expertise in the UAS industry firsthand. I’m confident we have the best”, says Hollis.
“I applaud the work of the Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation and the collaboration that produced today’s announcement of the Four Pillars UAS testing and training facility”, says Congressman Ron Barber. “This is an important step forward in diversifying the economic growth and job development potential of Cochise County. I look forward to seeing this project’s progress including the proposed expansion to other communities in the county.”