By Dave Maxwell
The hottest things in aeronautics at present aren’t stealth bombers, advanced fighters jets or bigger jumbo airliners. The hottest things are drones, more properly known as UAS, or unmanned aerial systems.
A demonstration of some of these drones was given at the Alamo Landing Field (L92) last week by Don Bintz with the Sandstorm Unmanned Aerial System Inc. Bintz, a retired Air Force pilot from Wisconsin, has established an outpost of the company in Henderson, Nevada. But he plans to lease at the Alamo facility as a center for research, development and training on the cutting edge of technology.
Pilots of the unmanned systems have to be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration and there are specific rules and guidelines for commercial drones use and amateur use. Drones must also have “aircraft markings” (an ID number that can be traced back to the owner).
Bintz’ company has been one of the leaders in the UAS industry since it was first established in 2003.
A large crowd was on hand last Saturday morning to watch the flight crews demonstrate several planes and spider-like helicopter drones.
At times, some of the kids in attendance were even given a try at the stick of the aircraft.
The main demonstration involved Sandstorm, a 15-foot wingspan drone, available with either gasoline or battery. Remotely piloted, it can be flown from ground control stations that are be close by, but could also be hundreds, even thousands of miles away from the actual flight location.
Engineer Cameron Berg said Alamo is going to be the base of operations for Sandstorm in Nevada. Another base for the company is in Antigo, Wisconsin. “It’s possible we might someday even have a staff person living in Alamo,” he said.
Bintz said the door is wide open for drones to do a number of things, good for commercial and civilian uses, survey work, videography, construction, law enforcement, search and rescue, even agriculture uses, “we haven’t come up with all of them yet.”
There is a three-fold plan for Alamo, Bintz said. “Overhead aerial photography, construction and agriculture. It’s going to take a coordinated effort. Once the success of the systems are proved, the bottom line will be, it’s hard to argue with success.”
He added that Alamo is a good place for research and development because it is “out away from the crowd, yet still convenient and easy to work. The air space is good, and you can get everything done that you need to do.”
The Alamo Landing Field is leased by the county for 30 years from the BLM under a recreation and public purposes lease. The Lincoln County Airport Authority and county are working on transferring the property to the county. The airport authority is tasked with managing the airport and aviation for the county. Local aviation enthusiasts Burt and Wendy Rudder organized the event, which included a pancake and egg breakfast prior to the demonstration.
Wendy Rudder is vice chair of the airport authority and Burt, her husband, is the manager. All of their work at the airport is volunteer and the they spend hours each week maintaining and operating the facility. “We pull weeds, clean runways/ramps, greet visitors, haul visitors around, clean the building, check the fence, do required runway and airport maintenance checks, etc.,” Wendy Rudder said.
“Our passion is aviation,” she added. “If we could live at that airport, we would.”
The Rudders also work to secure funding for the improvements at both county airports.
Formerly a dirt air strip, the Alamo Landing Field now has a paved runway and associated connector and bypass taxiways, an apron, which is where aircraft are parked, automobile parking, terminal building, perimeter fencing, extension of utilities, electricity and airfield lighting.
These improvements were funded by FAA grants, with local in-kind matches through volunteer hours. The grants are formulated by airline fees that travelers pay when flying on commercial airlines.
Wendy Rudder is eligible to sit on Nevada Airports Association (NvAA), and has served as the organization’s secretary, President-Elect, President and Past President. She also serves on Nevada Aviation Technical Advisory Committee (NATAC). “Both organizations work towards airport support and grant matching,” she said. “I have been able to secure quite a bit of grant match from NATAC for the county to use at both airports, so the county has expended hardly any funds on either airports.”
Rudder pointed out that no local tax funds are used to improve or maintain the airports. The airport authority budget comes solely from money earned at each airport, from tie down fees, hangar pad lease fees, BLM fire lease fees, landing fees, office pad lease fees.
In addition to UAS and Coyote Springs at Alamo, the BLM at Panaca Airport and others pay the airport authority to use the facilities, though the organization’s’ operating budget is only around $10,000 to $12,000 per year.