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Indiana, Ohio lobby for drone site

Lawmakers tout airspace, labor force, defense firms

The entire Indiana congressional delegation has sent a letter to federal officials supporting the Ohio-Indiana bid for a drone test site.

Proposals for six sites were due Monday with the Federal Aviation Administration, which is expected to make its selections by year’s end. According to media reports and the FAA, at least 50 proposals for developing and testing unmanned aircraft systems in 37 states were expected to be submitted.

“The states of Ohio and Indiana have both the military and civil resources necessary to be a leader in the emerging UAS sector,” the Hoosier delegation wrote in a letter dated Monday.

Ohio is proposing that Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and its Air Force Research Laboratory become a regional hub for the development of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, used for commercial and government purposes in American airspace.

The Indiana congressional delegation’s letter, signed by both Hoosier senators and all nine representatives, also mentions the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and the Naval Surface War Center Crane Division near Bloomington as components of “a diverse and powerful team of FAA partners already conducting research and development work for UAS integration.”

The letter touts “the knowledge base of area pilots, researchers and engineers already operating in the UAS aeronautical specialties” as well as 11 universities in both states that have partnered with what is called the Ohio/Indiana Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center & Test Complex.

The letter was sent to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“Indiana is the perfect place for this to take place,” Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said Monday in a conference call with reporters.

While the letter made no reference to facilities or agencies in northeast Indiana, “if the proposal is accepted, there could be a role for defense contractors across the state,” Tara DiJulio, communications director for Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said by email.

James Wegmann, communications director for Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, cited the long-term economic benefits of a test site and said Stutzman “will continue to advocate for an increased reliance on the 122nd Fighter Wing’s proven capabilities.” The wing is at Fort Wayne’s Air National Guard base.

Southwest Ohio and southern Indiana figure prominently in the Ohio-Indiana proposal. The Dayton Daily News reported in April that Indiana is attractive for its “prized restricted airspace.” DiJulio said that airspace is largely over the Indiana National Guard’s Muscatatuck Urban Training Center east of Columbus.

The FAA’s selection criteria include climatic diversity. The Indiana lawmakers write that Ohio and Indiana offer “a broad array of weather conditions, allowing for adequate testing of aircraft and equipment in any weather conditions they may experience throughout the national airspace.”

The FAA has had a drone test site at New Mexico State University since 2011.

Congress in 2012 directed the FAA to establish more sites.