pioneers a path to AirVenture 2009 By Frederick A. Johnsen, EAA AirVenture
July 27, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - With
no one on board flying, an exciting aircraft landed at Wittman Field for
AirVenture 2009—the stealthy, gray Predator B remotely piloted
That landing established another first for
AirVenture: it’s the first time a civilian airfield has hosted an
aircraft like the Predator B. The event came about only after eight months
of negotiating and collaborating between the aircraft’s operators and
Predator B aircraft became part of the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
agency following their successes with the U.S. military in overseas
Home for this Predator B is Grand Forks Air
Force Base in North Dakota.
Thomas Griffin, operations manager for the
border-patrolling Predator program, said a certificate of authorization (COA)
to fly a Predator to Oshkosh was turned down by the FAA in 2008 – an
outcome that may have had something to do with proposed dates of
operations, he said. This year he began negotiating a COA for visiting
AirVenture 2009 in January and a key to his success this year was the
proposed operating window.
The Predator flew in to Oshkosh July 21 and
won’t depart until August 5, well outside the footprint of most air-show
Photo by Frederick A. Johnsen
The unmanned Predator B aircraft at AirVenture 2009 drew questions from
The Predator B launched this mission from
Grand Forks with takeoff controlled by a ground-based pilot in North
Dakota using a C-band link, a line-of-sight communications band. At
altitude control switched to K-band satellite communications, and then
returned to C-band so the Predator could be landed by a different pilot in
a ground control station parked on Wittman Field for this special mission.
For this special cross-country sortie, the
Predator was accompanied by a piloted CBP Cessna Citation as part of its
COA requirements, Griffin said. That had to do with the Predator’s
flight outside of its normal operating area and its landing at a civilian
The CBP Citation was required to stay no more
than one mile laterally and 100 feet vertically off the Predator,
explained John Priddy, deputy director of the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)
Operations Center in North Dakota.
Another factor in Predator’s presence at
Oshkosh this year is the growing base of experience between CBP’s UAS
operators and the FAA, Griffin explained.
Since inaugurating operations in North Dakota
along the northern tier of the United States, the Predators have been
encountered repeatedly by the FAA’s Minneapolis Air Route Traffic
Control Center (ARTC) controllers as the gray reconnaissance aircraft
follow a strictly-defined climb corridor to an operating box in Category A
airspace—above 18,000 feet—along the U.S. border with Canada.
And that’s a point Griffin and Priddy
emphasized repeatedly—as UAS aircraft gain more hang time in the U.S.
airspace system, their successes will continue to validate their expanded
“It’s a real partnership for us and the
FAA,” Priddy explained. “We couldn’t do it without them.
” Progress is evident in the few short years
UAS vehicles have flown in American skies. When Predators operate in their
assigned southern and northern tier patrol boxes, they now fly using a
yearlong COA that does not require renegotiation before each mission.
These COAs still require the aircraft to avoid overflying populated areas,
Various users and advocates of UAS keep
working together with the FAA, with the goal of making the arrival of UAS
aircraft at Oshkosh unremarkable in the future. But even then, don’t
expect to see Customs and Border Protection Predators at many air shows.
“We have work to do,” Griffin explained.
DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3;
2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30