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New Hangar Will Make Nenana a Base for Cargo Drone Testing

Apr 20, 2023 | News, Science, Transportation

ACUASI pilot Matt Westhoff guides the SeaHunter aircraft to the runway at Nenana Municipal Airport for another test flight in May 2022.

Rod Boyce | UAF Geophysical Institute

Researchers testing aerial cargo drones are returning to Nenana, where an airport hangar will become the newest base for the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI).

Hangar Away from Hangar 

ACUASI has been using the city-owned Nenana airport regularly for test flights, 54 miles away from the center’s home hangar at the East Ramp of Fairbanks International Airport. The center, part of the UAF Geophysical Institute, wants Nenana to become a part of an Interior drone testing hub, but the airport does not currently have any hangars available.

In February, the University of Alaska board of regents approved $3.3 million for a 4,800-square-foot hangar. Construction is expected to begin before June 30 and be complete in early fall. The university will lease land from the city.

“Having a hangar at Nenana will greatly expand our testing ability and increase our efficiency,” says ACUASI Deputy Director Nick Adkins. “We thank the board of regents for their speedy approval of the project and the governor and legislature for providing the funding.”

Federal COVID-19 relief funds will pay for the project. The Alaska legislature approved Governor Mike Dunleavy’s request that $10 million of the state’s share of those funds be designated for ACUASI.

The hangar will provide year-round space for drone storage and maintenance and testing of equipment designed to increase communication among all airspace users. The project includes office space.

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“We look forward to a long-term relationship with the community of Nenana,” Adkins says. “The city’s airport is easily accessible and is in a good location for testing cargo deliveries to areas outside the community.”

ACUASI is a national leader in unmanned aircraft systems innovation and research; UAF is one of seven nationally designated unmanned aircraft systems test sites. In February, the Federal Aviation Administration granted a regulatory waiver to UAF so that ACUASI is responsible for assessing the airworthiness of a test object rather than individual manufacturers and operators.

ACUASI’s largest aircraft include the 280-pound, single-engine Sentry and 299-pound, two-engine SeaHunter. The center also owns unmanned aircraft system payloads, including detect-and-avoid systems (ground-based and airborne), anti-GPS jamming systems, electro-optical/infrared cameras, lidar systems, methane detectors, aerosol samplers, and more.

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