Cape Cod, Mass., Drone Tests Could Fly by 2017

The tests are evaluating commercial use of drones, including adding lighter parts that would allow for sensors to be attached without compromising the length of flights.

by C. Ryan Barber, McClatchy News Service / June 3, 2014

Confined so far to the skies above Joint Base Cape Cod, tests of unmanned aircraft commonly known as drones could go off the military reservation in the next three to five years, and any data unrelated to the flights themselves will not be kept, a top official overseeing the program said Monday.

H. Carter Hunt, vice president of defense sector initiatives for MassDevelopment, a quasi-state agency involved with economic development, gave that timeline and an explanation of the recently completed privacy policy during a discussion at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School on Monday. A crowd of about 40 gathered for the forum, hosted by the Massachusetts Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force.

Standing at a podium inside the school's cafeteria, Hunt said the Federal Aviation Administration selected the Cape base last year as one of six sites to test drones for commercial use, in part, for the coastal environment that would show whether equipment turned into a "rust bucket within a couple hours" of flying near salt water.

Other issues, he said, include developing technology for radar to distinguish between drones and manned aircraft, along with protecting against cyberattacks. Hunt imagined a "14-year-old out there who's smarter than all of us put together" using a device to take control of a drone.

"We have to prevent that," Hunt said. "So we have to have anti-spoofing, anti-jamming. We have to have secure communications. How do we do that? How do we work that? There's a lot of smart people in the commonwealth who are working on that and making that happen."

The tests are also evaluating lighter parts that would allow for sensors to be added onto the drones without compromising the length of flights. When he referred to those sensors as the "payload," Millis resident Carol Coakley, a member of Massachusetts Peace Action, asked whether he was referring to weaponry.

Hunt clarified that he was referring to sensors.

"We're going to do testing of equipment on these airframes. We're testing mostly airframes and the equipment that goes on them to get into the NAS," Hunt said, referring to the National Airspace System in a discussion rife with military jargon.

Adam Freudberg, executive director of the military task force, later noted that Massachusetts Peace Action was the only group to testify against the recently passed military bond bill, which authorizes up to $177 million in funding projects designed to expand public or private sector growth around the state's six military bases.

Freudberg credited the bases for pumping $14.2 billion into the state economy and for nearly 46,500 jobs.

With talk of funding, the discussion touched on Connery Avenue, a road at the base that Freudberg acknowledged to be "neglected" and "due for repaving."

"Although I'm sure that Connery Avenue has value in training troops how to drive in Third World conditions, I'm curious as to the cost of paving and who would participate in that?" asked state Rep. Randy Hunt, R-East Sandwich.

Freudberg, noting that some soldiers have described the road as worse than some in Afghanistan, said the project would cost $5 million. It is not yet clear whether the project will receive any funding under the military bond bill.

State Rep. David Vieira, R-Falmouth, who was recently appointed to the military task force, remembered hearing the booms from departing planes on 9/11 but said the base is evolving into an incubator of innovation.

"We are going to move thoughts, ideas and intelligence at lightning speed," he said.

©2014 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)