By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer
The soon-to-be occupants of Cannon Air Force Base and Melrose Bombing Range say plans to test Boeing drones at the bombing range won’t interfere with their operations. Both parties are keeping the possibility of working together alive, although their missions are not related, military and Boeing officials said.
“We are not closing the door on anything. Who knows what will happen down the road?” said Chick Ramey, a spokesperson for Boeing, the world’s leading aerospace company and the largest combined manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft.
In May, Boeing confirmed its intent to test ScanEagles — unmanned aerial vehicles — at Melrose Bombing Range.
Since then, the 66,000-acre swath of land located to the west of Cannon and the base itself has been promised to the Air Force Special Operations 16th Wing.
The wing will assume ownership of Cannon and Melrose on Oct. 1, 2007, according to an Air Force press release.
That wing will bring 94 planes to Cannon, and could fly a range of aircraft in Cannon and Melrose airspace, including AC-130U Gunships and helicopters, among other aircraft, officials have said. The Air Force has not finalized the list of aircraft to be sent to the base, according to an Air Force press release.
But Boeing training and special operations training should not conflict, even if the two independent entities use the same airspace, said Matt Durham, of AFSOC public affairs.
“Usually there are a lot of training missions going on at a base,” Durham said.
In fact, unmanned aerial vehicles are already being used by the 16th Wing, and will probably arrive at Cannon along with the Wing, according to Special Ops spokesman Lt. Col. Toby Corey.
As for a future partnership between the two entities, greater communication would be needed, according to Capt. Elizabeth Paul of AFSOC public affairs.
“AFSOC is currently planning to honor Boeing’s Melrose requirement. As for a joint effort, we need to learn more about what their program entails before any decisions are made,” Paul wrote in an e-mail.
Boeing also plans to use a Clovis Community College classroom for training purposes, although a contract between the company and the college has to be finalized, according to Tom Drake, CCC assistant to the president.
“We are still working on final details,” Drake said.
The company should begin use of the college in July, Drake said.
Initial staffing for the Boeing endeavor is estimated at less than 20 and training at Melrose should begin sometime this summer, Ramey said.
The Marines and Navy have used ScanEagles for intelligence and reconnaissance work in Iraq. The drones send detailed real-time video images to military personnel of the ground.
ScanEagles, which have logged more than 30,000 hours of combat flight in Iraq, can soar above 16,000 feet, but usually fly at 1,600 feet, Ramey said. About four years ago, the ScanEagle accomplished its first successful, autonomous flight, a Boeing Web site shows.
The drones have a wingspan of 10 feet, according to a Boeing Web site.
Boeing has a contract to supply an undisclosed number of ScanEagles to the Navy and Army, Ramey has said.
Greater domestic use of unmanned aerial vehicles is being urged by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
The senator gained acceptance Thursday for an amendment that would monitor Department of Defense progress in the development of Federal Aviation Administration policies for the operation of UAVs, according to a press release from Domenici’s office.
Unmanned aerial vehicles could be used to protect the border between the U.S. and New Mexico, the senator said in the release.
Domenici is seeking more than $35 million for unmanned aerial vehicles projects in New Mexico and for UAV border patrol programs.