FAA Green-Lights UAS up to 15K Feet in Colorado’s San Luis Valley

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flights for a collaboration involving six Colorado counties, the University of Colorado Boulder and nonprofit aerospace advocacy group UAS Colorado.

Through the FAA-issued Certificates of Waiver or Authorization, the team can operate two types of UAS within an 8,000-square-mile airspace in the San Luis Valley to heights up to 15,000 feet.

Leach Airport in Center will be the primary operations hub for UAS testing in the valley, with participation by a number of other local airports, according to Jason Kelly, Alamosa County attorney.

The FAA has approved a 120-lb. vertical takeoff aircraft, the Reference Technologies Hummingbird, and a smaller, battery-powered UAS that is being developed by Black Swift Technologies and Swift Engineering and can be hand-launched with a payload of up to 8 lbs.

Reference Technologies Inc. is headquartered in Lafayette, Colo., and Black Swift Technologies, headquartered in Boulder, is a start-up founded by CU-Boulder alumni Jack Elston, Maciej Stachura and Cory Dixon.

According to CU-Boulder aerospace engineering sciences Professor Brian Argrow, the collaborative effort to obtain the San Luis Valley airspace from the FAA involved working closely with air traffic controllers at the Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center in Longmont to enable the UAS flights to be cleared up to 15,000 feet.

“We see this as a major accomplishment for UAS operations in Colorado,” says Argrow.

In 2012, Argrow led the CU portion of an effort for Colorado to host one of the six FAA test sites for UAS. Colorado was not selected, but the proposal galvanized a statewide effort to acquire a test site that was heavily supported by the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., the Adams County Economic Development Corp., and several state-based companies and individuals, according to Argrow.

“The decision by the FAA to allow for the testing of UAS aircraft in the San Luis Valley is a big step forward in keeping Colorado at the forefront in the development and testing of these aircraft,” adds UAS Colorado CEO Constantin Diehl, who submitted the two COA applications.

UAS Colorado represents a statewide business league of more than 100 industry, research and economic development stakeholders. Diehl also is the CEO of Rocky Mountain UAS, created in 2013 to partner with CU-Boulder on research efforts.


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