CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University was named this month by the Federal Aviation Administration to be part of the nation's Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and university officials are now making plans for the roles it will play in this new initiative.

OSU is one of 15 of the nation's leading universities in this field, in a team that will be led by Mississippi State University. An initial $5 million in funding was granted to support a diverse agenda of research, training and certification of unmanned aircraft, with additional funding expected during the five-year agreement.

"This further puts OSU and Oregon on the map of leaders in unmanned aircraft systems," said Michael Wing, director of the Aerial Information System Lab at OSU. "It will help us form ties with multiple institutions and partnerships, stimulate both public and private funding, and build on some of our historic strengths in fields such as remote sensing."

Representatives of the new center will meet in early June in Washington, D.C., to begin plans for the program, Wing said. Some of the initial areas of emphasis will include detect and avoid technology; low-altitude operations safety; control and communications; spectrum management; human factors; compatibility with air traffic control operations; and training and certification of pilots and crew members.

Some of OSU's early contributions, Wing said, may be in the area of low-altitude operations safety; detection and avoidance; human factors; and certification of flight operations.

"We envision some early work in Oregon being done with things such as wildfire monitoring and low-altitude, precision monitoring for agriculture or wildlife operations," Wing said.

Some of that is already taking place. OSU has now gained 30 FAA agreements for locations to use unmanned aircraft throughout Oregon and the U.S. Applications include fire surveys, vineyard health, and identifying salmon spawning beds in rivers and streams. The salmon spawning bed identification work was highly successful, and the data quality exceeded what could be obtained by far more expensive and manned helicopters, Wing said.

The Center of Excellence of which OSU is a part already has 113 corporate partners nationally, Wing said, and more will be added. It was formed in competition with other applicants, and it's expected that a complete research agenda will be developed by next year.

Two years ago, OSU was also selected as part of the Pan-Pacific Test Site, one of six test sites around the nation designed to help develop the use of unmanned aerial systems for civilian use. It will collaborate with the University of Alaska and Hawaii on that initiative, and offer some of the most unique land forms in the nation on which to test new technologies.

The three states have an extraordinary range of terrain in which to test new systems: mountains, rivers, valleys, high desert, Arctic tundra, volcanoes, many types of forest and agricultural areas, and tropical islands.

University, business and state leaders have said that the production, testing, research and use of unmanned aerial systems should be able to play an important role in Oregon's future economic growth, employment and career opportunities.

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Michael Wing, 541-737-4009