Dr. Pat Ford has been a leader in drone technology and adoption. Read more about his current project for unmanned and autonomous system testing.
By Jennifer Ferrero, APR
Dr. Pat Ford has been involved with the aerospace industry for 30 years. Most recently he served as Program Director at Big Bend Community College, where his team established their Unmanned Systems Program. In addition, Ford conducts work through his businesses Erevno Aerospace Corporation and RPV Aero, LLC. He also serves as the Chair of the COE UAS Advisory Board.
Recently he has been volunteering time in support of a major project outside of Sunnyside, WA for UAS testing and evaluation. The location is on the privately-owned Anderson Ranch, called “Anderson Ranch UAS Test Site” or just “Anderson Ranch.” Ford is helping coordinate with the City of Sunnyside in the development of two short runways for UAS testing and evaluation at Anderson Ranch, which is in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace, providing maximum flexibility in flight operations. “The City of Sunnyside and Anderson Ranch are key building blocks in the future of UAS developments here in Washington.” said Ford. “I see Anderson Ranch as a location where small businesses can afford to test their UAS, either Part 107 (under 55 lbs.) or larger UAS.” Ford said that Anderson Ranch provides a rural location to test technologies such as sense-and-avoid systems and beyond-line-of-site capabilities. “With Sunnyside Municipal Airport only a few miles away, chase planes can be launched in sync with UAS from Anderson Ranch, providing a great combination for safe and accurate testing. Few small airport operators see the big picture and potential of UAS in the future of aviation, including helping to sustain general aviation as a whole. We are fortunate the City of Sunnyside has such vision and is an active and supportive member of UAS developments here in the State.”
In Ford’s business, Erevno Aerospace, he is the chief scientist, providing defense and aerospace consulting. He also operates RPV Aero, LLC for commercial UAS flight operations, including serving as consulting Chief Pilot/Test Director for Jetoptera, which is developing high speed/high altitude jet powered UAS with advanced propulsion systems. After completing his Program Director role with Big Bend Community College in June of this year, Ford agreed to be the chair of the COE UAS Advisory Board to help pursue commercial and academic possibilities in the Northwest. It is a volunteer position for him.
Immersed in the industry, Ford said that commercial opportunities continue to grow. “If you look at the industry for dollars, the 2018 estimates for drone-related commerce indicates 10 billion for commercial efforts with the remainder for the defense industry.” He said that some analysts estimate that the commercial UAS sector will increase by another billion or so in the next few years.
Taking the FAA’s Part 107 exam allows many people to become certificated to operate small UAS (sUAS). But Ford said there is much more to it than that. “A person can pass the Part 107 exam and receive his/her commercial remote pilot certificate, having never flown a UAS” said Ford. He further cautions that not everyone can go out and be a drone pilot and also obtain useful data. “Drones are a tool to support the needs of a customer. Many people thought they could go out and get drone work by simply obtaining their Part 107 certificate. However, there’s a difference between being a drone pilot and actually being able to take good photos at a construction site or collect and assess the right multi-spectral data flying over a cherry orchard. In other words, you can get qualified to swing a hammer, but that doesn’t make you a carpenter. There’s a lot more to it.” Ford said this is one of the reasons the Big Bend Community College Unmanned Systems Program, along with other colleges offering courses around the State and across the country, are so important to the future of fully trained commercial remote pilots. “UAS operators that also understand various forms of remote sensing and geo-spatial information systems (GIS) are the ones that will better understand potential consumer needs.”
The concept familiar to many service-based businesses of today is “How do I solve a problem for my customer?” Ford said that this is what will make Part 107 UAS companies and overall UAS operations successful – working with other experts to deliver a complete package to a customer, collected from UAS. “The need to work with various experts will spawn other support efforts and businesses, helping to build a sustainable industry formed around UAS operations. From basic imagery to advanced medical emergency support drones, the possibilities are endless. It truly is open territory.” He said that he sees many new one and two-person startup companies working their way into the UAS operations business sector, as well as companies such as real estate firms and large farms training their own people to support data collection and analysis efforts. “It really is a mix of approaches when it comes to Part 107 operations here in Washington” Ford added. Last year, a consortium of aerospace and transportation leaders submitted a bid to the federal government to conduct UAS testing in Washington. Ten states were chosen, but Washington State was not one of them. However, Ford said that from his perspective the long-term impact will be minimal.
“Whether operating under Part 107 or a Section 333 Exemption, you have to follow the regulations and go through the normal process to fly in accordance with those rules. Being approved for a test site does not waiver that paperwork, other than streamlining a common location at which to test.” Ford said that the old Field of Dreams movie line, “If you build it, they will come” applies. “That’s what the COE UAS is all about – helping the government and industry to safely and effectively integrate UAS into the National Air Space System, be it in uncontrolled airspace at locations such as Sunnyside, or in controlled airspace such as Grant County International Airport.”
Dr. Pat Ford is a knowledgeable asset to Washington’s unmanned systems industry and continues to provide support and services that will keep the industry flying.
Bio of Dr. Pat Ford
Pat Ford is the Chief Scientist for Erevno Aerospace Corporation, with almost three decades supporting the aerospace industry. He is a certificated Remote Pilot, Sport Pilot, and Advanced Ground Instructor with extensive testing experience with both manned and unmanned systems. His doctoral work culminated in the first commercial off the shelf (COTS) radar to be flown and tested on a UAS. A retired Naval Reserve officer, Pat is also a board member for the AUVSI (Cascade Chapter); Chair of the Washington State UAS COE Advisory Committee; adjunct Associate Professor of Space Studies for the University of North Dakota; and an independent aerospace science advisor/consultant/educator. Pat recently spent three years establishing and directing the Big Bend Community College Unmanned Systems Program, supported by a nearly three-million-dollar Department of Education Title V grant. He holds an MS in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota and a PhD in Applied Management and Decision Sciences from Walden University.