WARM SPRINGS, Ore. - Drones: the launch of a whole new perspective, a soaring industry -- and it's happening on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.
"When we think about commercial applications, Warm Springs is the perfect area to fly over," Warm Springs Economic Development Corporation CEO Jeffrey Anspach said Wednesday.
A partnership between Warm Springs, universities and Unmanned Aerial System company VDOS Global has launched one of the few drone testing sites in the U.S., on the Warm Springs Reservation.
"It's 1.000 square miles -- the geographic diversity rivals anywhere in the United States," Anspach said. "It goes from 1,000 foot elevation to the 10,000-foot peak of Mt. Jefferson."
Program development for the testing site is already underway. Range operators said they've already conducted some demo flights with Oregon State University. Back in May, the team flew a drone over a prescribed burn in the reservation's Mutton Mountains.
All flights so far have been entirely demonstrations or research-based, but developers hope to soon bring in commercial companies.
"We'll take them through that initial step of, 'This is the aircraft, these are its aspects and specifications,' to actually bringing them on the range to, and conducting flight operations," said Range Manager Seth Johnson.
Johnson is also a program manager for VDOS Global, a remote sensing company based out of Corvallis that works with both manned and unmanned aircraft.
He said most companies interested in using the test site are from aircraft manufacturing outfits, but applications will range from commercial to furthering drone technology.
The businesses will pay to use the site, and operations officials will turn over data to the Federal Aviation Administration.
"We'll give data to the FAA about how many operations are done, who's flying," Johnson said.
The testing sites are allowed to be a tool to help the FAA develop rules for the emerging industry.
It's also an opportunity to bring new jobs to Central Oregon.
"We're trying to take a bite out of some the of unemployment rate here and the funding issues," Anspach said, referring to the high poverty level of Warm Springs.
And with wildfires burning across Oregon, the test sites couldn't be more relevant, as likely drone flights eventually will move away from prescribed burns to help fight actual wildfires.
"Several companies recently have been involved with the Oregon Department of Forestry for applying unmanned systems to wildfire management," Johnson said.
The program hopes to begin commercial flights before October.
The biggest concern among Warm Springs residents so far has been a familiar one with drones -- privacy.
Officials say the test flights will not spy on people, and most will take place in very remote areas..