Boeing eyes Clovis airspace

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Unmanned aerial vehicles could possibly soar over the skies of Clovis in the near future, according to a Boeing executive.

The commercial jet and military contractor giant is interested in conducting test flights for its ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles in Clovis, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Ben Robinson, who serves as a Boeing logistics support systems director in Oklahoma City.

“I believe there is a good possibility this will come about in the near future,” said Robinson, a former Clovis resident.

Boeing is the world’s largest manufacturer of satellites, commercial jetliners and military aircraft, according to its Web site, www.boeing.com.

The ScanEagle took its first autonomous flight about four years ago, according to the Web site. The long-endurance airplanes — 4 feet in length with 10-foot wingspans — are being used by the Marines and Navy in Iraq for surveillance purposes, a Boeing spokesperson for the ScanEagle, Chick Ramey, said. ScanEagles are built in Washington state, Ramey said.

The planes can soar to heights of 16,000 feet but usually fly at about 1,600 feet, he said.

Ramey estimated Boeing’s interest in Clovis as a test-flight site took root roughly six months ago. Ramey said a Boeing training site in Clovis would probably not employ a large number of civilians. He said Boeing has contracts with the Navy and the Army to supply an undisclosed number of ScanEagles and needs a locale to teach military personnel how to use the vehicles.

Neither Ramey nor Robinson, however, would say where the company is interested in conducting ScanEagle test flights in Clovis.

A plausible sight would be Cannon Air Force Base.

Sgt. Brandon Seals of the Cannon Public Affairs office said Cannon has not received any information about Boeing being interested in operating there, but he said the office of the Secretary of the Air Force is more connected to the process of finding occupants for Cannon, which is to shutter by 2010 if Air Force officials do not locate a mission for the base.

An Air Force spokeswoman, Shirley Curry, said Tuesday she could not determine whether Boeing was interested in Cannon.

Air Force officials intend to recommend a mission for Cannon this summer, she said. But any federal agency interested in Cannon can still contact the Air Force for a tour of the installation, Curry said. The tours are offered in lieu of workshops to be held at Cannon for parties interested in the base.

Those workshops were canceled after a workshop for Cannon held in Washington, D.C., garnered little attention, Chad Lydick, a member of a Cannon advocacy group, previously told the Clovis News Journal.