Aurora Flight Sciences is planning on expanding the operational testing of the Centaur Optionally Piloted Aircraft (OPA) system to Virginia’s Lonesome Pine Airport located in Wise County.
The intention behind this expansion is to establish Wise County as a research, development, and operational center for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and to aid the Virginia Unmanned Systems Commission’s endeavor to make the state an unmanned systems industry leader.
Aurora will employ the large UAS, Centaur OPA system to obtain critical information for Virginia state through state-of-the-art sensor technologies. It will also assist the Mountain Empire Community College in creating the first-ever Aerial Drone Geo-Spatial Mapping and Surveyors course.
The Centaur was created by incorporating autonomy-enabling technology to a DA-42 aircraft’s passenger seat. The aircraft can be flown by a pilot or can be used as a UAS, and it is very flexible for airborne training, sensing, and testing. The Centaur can fly as a UAS between 14 to 20 hours and can embark on missions that are too menial or dangerous to be taken up by on-board pilots.
The Wise County operations require the Centaur to fly as a UAS or to fly with a safety pilot on-board in hybrid mode. Predicting and detecting forest fires, conducting multi-state inspection of large areas on railroads, roads, waterways and power lines, mapping of vegetation and minerals, conducting emergency management missions, and mapping and survey are a few of the tasks assigned to Centaur.
Aurora’s operation in West Virginia and Virginia gives the company a vested interest in furthering unmanned flight operations in the Appalachian Region.
Aurora is poised to ensure Virginia takes the lead in the introduction of large unmanned aerial systems operating in the National Airspace System (NAS), and Wise County would be a great place to expand our capabilities and create jobs.
Jeff Harlan, Centaur Program Director, Aurora
Harlan, who was in a meeting with the stakeholders onsite, demonstrated the technology that enables autonomy. Aurora, which has partnered with Fly Wisely Accelerator, will be joining hands with the County of Wise and Drone Airspace Management (DAM), a strategic growth company based in Virginia, in order to initiate Centaur service at Lonesome Pine.
John Langford, CEO and Chairman of Aurora, is one of the 19 members appointed to the new Unmanned Systems Commission by Governor McAuliffe. “The Commission showed the incredible potential Virginia has to become a world leader in developing and demonstrating UAS technologies,” said Langford. “Our collaboration with Fly Wisely, DAM and Wise County is an important step toward further developing this potential.”
From 2017, Aurora is planning on starting flight operation from Wise County and will be conducting gravity measurement collection missions for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Apart from this, Aurora intends to lend Centaur to aid Virginia’s geo-spatial work and for contracted services such as assisting in the development of Aerial Drone Geo-spatial courses for Mountain Empire Community College.