Kansas' three largest universities are part of a team made up of the nation's leading institutions that will help integrate unmanned aerial systems into the nation's airspace.

The Federal Aviation Administration selected the team, led by Mississippi State University, as its Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The Center of Excellence will focus on research, education and training, according to a news release.

Kansas State University, University of Kansas and Wichita State University will be part of a "super conference for UAS research, development and industry growth," said Tim Rogers, executive director of the Salina Airport Authority.

"It places Kansas Board of Regents institutions clearly at the cutting edge as a trio," he said. "It's significant for the growth of the UAS industry in Kansas. It's a great achievement."

Mississippi State is the coordinating school in the alliance, said Kurt Barnhart, associate dean of research at Kansas State University Salina.

K-State being named to that alliance is "a good thing," he said. "Something we've been looking at for three years, maybe more."

Other team members are Drexel University; Embry Riddle Aeronautical University; Montana State; New Mexico State; North Carolina State; Oregon State; University of Alabama, Huntsville; University of Alaska, Fairbanks; and University of North Dakota.

Congress mandated in 2014 that the FAA establish the Center of Excellence.

Focusing on opportunities

In the release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx referred to the group as a "world-class public-private partnership" that will "help us focus on the challenges and opportunities of this cutting-edge technology. We expect this team will help us to educate and train a cadre of unmanned aircraft professionals well into the future."

Like university think-tank partnerships, the Centers of Excellence will bring together the best minds in the nation to conduct research to educate, train and work with the FAA toward solutions for aviation challenges, according to the release.

"It's basically an opportunity to continue what we've been doing," Barnhart said. "It's a way to compete for research dollars a little bit easier than it was in the past."

Research areas will evolve over time, but initially will include, according to the release: detect-and-avoid technology; low-altitude operations safety; control and communications; spectrum management; human factors; compatibility with air traffic control operations; and training and certification of UAS pilots and crews. ___

(c)2015 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.)

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