The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

June 22, 2013

Drone testing eyed: Airport could be used for training

JOHNSTOWN — With its advanced radar and control tower, 7,000-foot runway and relatively light air traffic, Johnstown’s airport has proven itself as a training facility for military and private pilots.

Those same attributes would qualify the region as an Unmanned Aircraft System training facility for the National Guard, airport leaders say.

The campaign to bring a National Guard unit to John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport is one of the top priorities in the airport authority’s new strategic plan.

“They are picking six areas of the country to house and test and fly the (unmanned aerial vehicles),” airport authority Chairman William Polacek said. “We are aggressively promoting Johnstown airport as a low-cost solution.”

Johnstown’s runway can accommodate C-5 military transport planes to deliver the drones and related equipment. It also has storage areas on the airfield and low-traffic airspace nearby, Polacek said.

“Those are three big opportunities,” he said. “If we have an opportunity, we are going to pursue it.”

The drones would be flown for testing and training over areas designated as restricted operations zones by the Federal Aviation Administration, said William Hunt. Other aircraft would be prohibited from entering the ROZs, which are typically above low-population areas.

A former Army helicopter pilot, Hunt retired as lieutenant colonel to become general manager for MTT Aviation Service at the airport. He is not a member of the airport authority, but volunteers on its defense committee.

“I think it’s an ideal location,” Hunt said. “We are hopeful we can get that unit. It will be training the operators, just like we do with the operators of the helicopters and other aircraft.”

Hunt said the Air Force would like to have a drone training facility in the state and will have the Pennsylvania National Guard survey the airport for the program.

“We want to compete for that,” he said.

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