MOSES LAKE, Wash. -- Grant County International Airport is one of the biggest airports in the world. In the middle of Eastern Washington, it’s also one of the quietest.
Pat Jones says the open skies over this one-time Air Force Base makes this airport in Moses Lake the perfect spot to test aircraft without pilots.
The FAA is looking to find six airports around the U.S. to answer the question: Can pilotless airplanes, like those the military uses in Afghanistan, safely share the skies with airliners the rest of us fly on?
Patrick Jones, executive director of the Port of Moses Lake, sees this airport going well beyond a role as test site to become a permanent center for UAV research and development.
He's got the hangers and modern industrial space ready for research and aircraft assembly.
And Moses Lake has a history. Boeing developed a massive UAV called Condor, which had the wing span of a 747. It was one of the first planes every flown by computer.
But the plan to become the center of the UAV universe goes beyond having an available airport. The University of Washington and WSU are involved in bringing in the business. So is Big Bend Community college, which trains mechanics. In fact, over the door to the shop is an early drone developed in WWII to tow targets soldiers could shoot at.
The school, which also trains lots of pilots, is looking to adding UAVs to its curriculum.
It seems like everybody knows this revolution is coming – that skies one day will be shared between manned and un-manned airplanes. And Moses Lake wants to be at the center of that revolution.