Aurora Aims to Establish Optionally Piloted Aircraft Ops in Wise County, Va.


Manassas, Va.-headquartered Aurora Flight Sciences is planning to expand operational testing of its Centaur optionally piloted aircraft (OPA) to Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County, Va.

Through this endeavor, Aurora aims to continue advancing the Virginia Unmanned Systems Commission’s progress toward advancing the state’s unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry. John Langford, chairman and CEO, was one of the 19 members assigned by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to the commission.

Aurora says it will initially use the large Centaur OPA to collect critical data for the state and support the local Mountain Empire Community College in developing its “aerial drone geospatial mapping and surveyors” course.

The Centaur, developed by adding autonomy-enabling technology to the passenger seat of a DA-42 aircraft, can be flown as a UAS or as a piloted aircraft, explains Aurora. Aurora is aiming to begin flight operations out of Wise County at the beginning of 2017.

In its unmanned mode, the Centaur can spend 14-20 hours in flight to conduct missions. For the new Wise County operations, the Centaur will either be flown on-board by the pilot or in the hybrid mode with an on-board safety pilot. Some of the jobs targeted for Centaur include mapping and surveying; predicting and detecting forest fires; performing large-area (multi-state) inspections on roads, railroads, power lines and waterways; performing mineral and vegetation mapping; and conducting emergency management operations.

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