Foremost about to be in the Forefront of Unmanned Air Systems Testing

By Dori Modney (@Dori_Modney on Twitter)
June 20, 2016 - 10:41am

FOREMOST:  The Village of Foremost has dubbed itself the small community with big city appeal and it’s about to become much more appealing to a specific industry.

With a population of just over 500, the community will become one of only two Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) ranges for training and field testing the devices.  The other centre is in Alma, Quebec.

Foremost will be able to move forward with development of a UAS range, thanks to almost half a million dollars in federal and provincial government support.

For those questioning the purpose of a UAS testing field, think drones.  But, these systems are on the sophisticated end of the scale.  Most are still in the engineering stage and being designed for research, industry and military applications.

Companies manufacturing the systems and universities and businesses experimenting with various UAS, had previously used air space at CFB Suffield, just north of Medicine Hat. However, the frequency of use by military aircraft made UAS testing difficult and impractical at that location. Testing and research groups started looking for a new location and that’s where the community of Foremost came to the ‘forefront’.

The most appealing reason for locating the UAS centre in the community, located about 110-kilometres south-east of Lethbridge, is its topography. The flat-land prairie provides an extensive line-of-sight. The fact that the centre will be located away from urban and industrial areas also provides greater opportunity for unobstructed testing.

The community has been working for several years to make the centre a reality and last Friday (June 17th), it was announced that Western Economic Diversification Canada will be investing $300,000 to retrofit and upgrade the community’s existing aerodrome.  On top of that, the provincial government will provide $100,000 for business development and range management.

Foremost Mayor, Ken Kultgen, explained that the village’s current airfield has been used intermittently for UAS testing for about five years now, with groups making their own arrangements with Industry Canada for use of the air space. However, the current facilities are not adequate.

“The government investment will allow for upgrades and expansion of the building at the aerodrome and provide more space for education and meeting rooms to accommodate the groups which will use the facility. It will be a key part in moving the Unmanned Air Systems Range forward.”

As for the potential use of the centre, Kultgen says, “This will be a great benefit for the Unmanned Air Systems industry in Canada.”

However, he also sees a bigger part for the range.

“We expect the centre will be used by national and international businesses, universities and manufacturing companies.”

Kultgen’s expectations are not off-base, as the Federal government reports worldwide spending on unmanned aerial vehicles is expected to more than triple over the next decade to $14 Billion by 2023.

According to a report released in May by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the emerging global market for business services using drones is valued at more than US$127 Billion.

Kultgen says the community will manage the UAS range with outside groups arranging for use of the facility.

The Foremost range will support industry and academic training, as well as field testing the technology for civil and commercial uses. Post-secondary students and aerospace engineers, will also receive training in UAS technology, with the intent of designing the next generation of unmanned vehicles.

It’s hoped the investment will lead to commercialization and increased trade for Canadian companies as they work to attract global investment.

You can get a drone's view of the Foremost airfield in this YouTube video.





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