Drone Aspirations in Virginia Coal Country Get a Federal Boost

Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

$2.2 million will support new training programs focused on unmanned aerial vehicle technology in a county in the southwest part of the state.

Attempts to turn a county in a southwestern Virginia coalfield region into a hub for the drone industry got a boost last week from a $2.2 million federal grant.

The money will go toward expanding the existing unmanned aerial vehicle course curriculum at Mountain Empire Community College, located in Big Stone Gap, a town in Wise County. Courses will be geared toward teaching students to use drone technology for commercial and government services, such as surveying, infrastructure inspections and mapping.

With about 40,000 residents, Wise County is located in Appalachia, on Virginia’s border with Kentucky. Declines in the coal industry have dealt a blow to the local economy in recent years. Against this backdrop, efforts have unfolded to attract drone-related enterprises to the county, as Route Fifty reported in July.

Those seeking to develop the aerial drone industry in Wise County say the sparsely populated and rugged terrain there make it well suited for testing unmanned aircraft. They also point to the skilled labor pool available from the region’s coal mining sector.

For about four years, Jack Kennedy, the clerk of the Wise County and City of Norton Circuit Court, has been championing the idea that the county can become an epicenter for drone-related ventures.

“We see this as a significant, incremental step forward,” he said by phone Friday, referring to the grant.

“We hope to expand it into a multi-state effort, working with community colleges in Kentucky and West Virginia,” he added. “And also to bring in more and more companies.”

The grant was announced Wednesday.

It was awarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission to the Wise County Industrial Development Authority, under an Obama Administration program designed to spur commercial activity in places with economies that traditionally depended on the coal industry.

The grant program is called the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization, or POWER. A total of 42 grants, worth nearly $28 million, were awarded through the program last week. The money will support projects in 13 states.

Working with Mountain Empire Community College to expand its aerial drone curriculum will be two private firms: Drone Airspace Management, or DAM, and Aurora Flight Sciences Corp.

Aurora develops unmanned aerial systems and aerospace vehicles.

In August, the company announced plans for testing its optionally piloted Centaur airplane out of Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County. A modified Diamond Aircraft DA-42, the Centaur is about the size of Cessna. In “unmanned mode,” it can spend 14 to 20 hours in flight, according to Aurora.

Some of the new courses at Mountain Empire will focus on larger-sized drones, like the Centaur. 

When equipped with sensors and high resolution cameras, these aircraft could be used to inspect roads, survey coastline, or monitor conditions after a natural disaster.

DAM works with companies breaking into, or expanding within, the unmanned aerial vehicle industry.

Avery Brown, who leads strategic marketing and business development for the company, said by phone Friday that DAM would help Mountain Empire to develop an aerial drone curriculum that aligns with commercial needs. He said DAM has had discussions with companies in variety of fields where drones are expected to be used in coming years.

Cell phone signal tower inspections were one example he mentioned.

As described by Brown, the expanded curriculum at Mountain Empire will be designed not only to train students to pilot unmanned aircraft, but also to teach them about drone sensor technology, and the data the aircraft can be used to collect.

Brown noted the importance of students acquiring some knowledge about industries in which drones might be deployed. For instance, becoming familiar with the components of a cell phone tower, so they can communicate clearly with clients and employers when planning and carrying out inspection flights.

“Just because you know how to fly doesn’t mean you know how to do something on a professional or commercial level," Brown said.

Some of the proposed classes will be targeted toward college students, and others toward corporate professionals.

The collaboration between Mountain Empire, DAM and Aurora is part of a program that's been dubbed the Virginia Emerging Drone Industry Cluster. In conjunction with the grant award, Aurora announced last week it would commit $880,000 to support the program.

Previous course offerings at Mountain Empire have covered topics like basic flight principles, drone safety, building quad-copters, and preparing students to get certified as pilots of the aircraft. Federal Aviation Administration rules that went into effect earlier this year include requirements for people who fly drones for work or business.

Looking beyond the grant, Kennedy highlighted plans to test PocketQubes—satellites known for their 5 centimeter, cube-shaped size—on unmanned aircraft in southwest Virginia, before launching the devices into orbit from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the state’s eastern shore.

He said that initiative reflects a “determined effort” to generate interest among K-12 and college students in and around Wise County in drones, aviation, aerospace and space science.

“Workforce development and inspiration,” he wrote in an email, “is critical to the transitioning Central Appalachian economy.”

Bill Lucia is a Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Orlando Protects Citizens During Heavy Rain Events by Optimizing Water Data Intelligence
Orlando, FL, USA
Small city of Baldwin, GA with <5K residents reduces info calls to City Hall by 50%
Baldwin, GA, USA
Integrated city systems, unified data, & automation drive 316% increase in field efficiency
Seattle, WA, USA

NEXT STORY: Days of Low-Cost Gas Are Over in N.J.; Flint’s ‘Chilling Effect’ on Mich. State Workers

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.