AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – The aerospace industry is rushing to receive approval to fly unmanned airplanes as one Texas man is already doing it. He makes them, flies them, and says the sooner the government allows more into the air, the better.
In an unremarkable shop south of Austin there is a living history of the hottest thing in aviation. At RP Flight Systems, generations of unmanned aircraft are on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, and scattered on the racks and workbenches of Gene Robinson. After 20 years as a computer programmer, the man whose bad eyesight kept him out of a cockpit finally found a way to get into the air.
From a field near his shop Friday, he launched his four pound flying wing by simply tossing it into the wind. A tiny motor came to life, and quickly pushed the plastic and foam aircraft a few hundred feet above the ground. More than 10 years of tinkering has led to an aircraft that is light, durable and easy to fly.
Outfitted with customized cameras that take high resolution photos search and rescue teams around the world have used his planes to search for missing people. He has recovered ten. The Hays County emergency management office contracted with him seven years ago to help regularly on searches. It led to him getting one of the few civilian certificates of authorization issued by the FAA, allowing him to fly.
His planes have helped scout wildfires in California, and look for lost livestock. Built by hand in his shop, interest in his planes started building among agencies nationwide. Then in 2007 the government effectively grounded the planes until it could come up with a set of rules for flying. It has just about grounded his dream.
“I’ve been moving backwards for a while,” he said. “Just like any entrepreneur you leverage your house, your credit cards, and everything else to try to get things to try to last a little bit longer cause around the next turn its going to better, right?”
So far, the next turn, has just led to more FAA delays. Approved test ranges that came to life this week in Texas are the next step to a set of rules that are supposed to integrate unmanned aircraft into the airspace by September of 2015. Many in the industry, fear that deadline will be pushed back.
Meanwhile, there is incredible value in unmanned flight Robinson says, just sitting here waiting to take off.
“Its undeniable,” he said. “And it’s going to be unstoppable.”