The Oregon Army National Guard has stated that they are planning to launch unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones, out of the public Eastern Oregon Regional Airport, along with other Oregon agencies, although the Guard already flies drones domestically.
This is hardly surprising, especially given that we already know that the U.S. military is operating drones domestically and sharing intelligence with law enforcement (also see below video), Predator drones are going to soon be operating over North Dakota, and drones have already been openly used to assist law enforcement.
Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has embraced small surveillance drones and is going to begin testing in Oklahoma, the Pentagon already identified 110 potential drone bases in the U.S. and a new drone training facility is being built in Florida.
Now another facility can be added to the list with the National Guard using the airport to train the 23-troop platoon.
“City officials are optimistic the new high-tech industry could bring jobs to Pendleton and fill properties on airport land,” according to the East Oregonian.
This type of excuse is actually quite typical when defending drones and is regularly used by those who would like to gloss over the legitimate privacy concerns, as the aviation industry so desperately does.
According to the Associated Press, the Oregon Army National Guard’s Gregg Schroeder said that the only thing holding the drones back is approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
On top of the Guard flying drones out of the airport, the AP reports that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department and others like Oregon State University could use the facility as well.
The department could use drones to “spot fires, track salmon migration, locate lost hunters and hikers and gather crop moisture information,” according to Fish and Wildlife commissioner Carter Kerns, who, according to AP, “volunteered to research how UAVs could benefit the city.”
“The possibility for economic development for [Pendleton, Oregon], I think, would be measured in the millions rather than the hundreds of thousands,” Kerns, a retired FBI agent, said to AP. “(It would be) the best thing that’s happened to Pendleton in my lifetime, and I was born here.”
However, as AP notes, the Guard already flies four out of five of their drones housed at the Guard’s Boardman station.
Obtaining FAA clearance to fly out of Eastern Oregon Regional Airport would just give the Guard the opportunity to fly even more often. Of course, it would also open the door to much more drone use, as noted above.
Even if FAA clearance is obtained, AP reports that the Guard platoon would “continue to conduct training in Boardman, such as night flights” since they would not be allowed to carry out night flights at the airport.
Allen Kenitzer, a spokesman for the FAA, unsurprisingly declined to comment on drones.
While the Guard platoon’s drones reportedly are not allowed to fly over densely populated areas, there is little to nothing actually stopping them from doing so.
AP did not report the actual model of the drones flown by this Guard platoon but from the following description one can conclude what it likely is.
“[The drones] are shaped like airplanes, weigh 375 pounds, are 12 feet long and have a 13 foot wingspan,” the AP reports.
This appears to be AAI Corporation’s RQ-7A/B Shadow models which are very roughly shaped like planes. In this case, specifically the 200 family of drones (not including the re-wing model), which have a length of 11.2 ft, a wingspan of 14 ft, and a gross weight of 375 pounds.
As far as I can tell, this is the only family of drones with the exact figure of 375 pounds, even though that figure is gross weight.
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