WARM SPRINGS, OR -- The Warm Springs FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Range is expanding operations to the Madras and Prineville airports. Test Range Manager Liz Stalford says until now, she’s had to turn away some drone companies that need more than the dirt airstrip available in Warm Springs. "It is a big deal, because Warm Springs is unlike the other test ranges [that] have airports associated with them." She tells KBND News, "It’s something that needed to be done. When I saw clients come here that needed a runway, and I was not going to be able to capture the project because we didn’t have a runway."
She says companies are making bigger and bigger drones that must be tested before they can get certified by the FAA. "So, now what we’re seeing is the 'heavy' – meaning 55 pounds and over – UAS are really leaning into type certification projects and some of them, many of them, require a runway." Stalford says companies are now developing unmanned technology for full-sized aircraft.
Given its proximity to Bend, Stalford says the agreement with the Prineville Airport is especially exciting. "So, when you’ve got high-level executives working on major projects from some of these very large companies, there’s never been a test range in a city where someone wants to set up shop long term and live." And, the expansion could benefit Madras and Prineville, as well, because companies often use other services like maintenance and hangar space, providing more revenue for those airports. Stalford says, "Hopefully it will be large UAS testing companies; manufacturing, as well, is zoned for either airport. We can set up large manufacturing facilities at either airport, so the entire aircraft can be built there and tested there. And, [there are] large, large hangars to accommodate their needs."
The Warm Springs range is one of only six official FAA UAS test sites in the country.