As part of an option for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test flights, the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi now has an airport and runway in its approved flight ranges.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently approved a new range to test and fly unmanned aircraft – which includes the Port Mansfield airport.
The center, located in Corpus Christi, is one of six federally designated test sites for UAS. The sites will provide critical data to the FAA as the agency develops rules, processes and procedures required to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace.
“With this approved range, which has a runway, we are expanding our operations and capacities for UAS testing for operation and development,” says Dr. Luis Cifuentes, director of the Lone Star UAS Center and the university’s vice president for research, commercialization and outreach. “Now aircraft with landing gear that need a landing strip can test and fly with our center.”
The center says it plans to build a hangar and pave a path to the runway – improvements planned in partnership with the Willacy County Navigation District.
The first flights at the Port Mansfield range are expected by the end of October. This is adjacent to another approved range south of Corpus Christi near Sarita, Texas, where the University regularly flies its 13-foot-wingspan UAS. At that range, the UAS’ belly lands in the soft, sandy flats common in that area, and the aircraft does not need a runway.
The center has also proposed additional ranges west of Port Mansfield.
“The Lone Star UAS Center provides testing capabilities 290 flying days a year over mountains, high deserts, agriculture, coastal and maritime topographies, along the Gulf of Mexico and over virtually unpopulated regions. It’s the ideal research environment for testing,” Cifuentes adds.
Since the test site designation in December, the Lone Star Center says, it has received inquiries from more than 60 private companies and other organizations that want to test and research aircraft, software or other possible uses for unmanned aircraft.