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Company wants to test aircraft in Gatesville

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Posted: Sunday, June 27, 2010 12:00 pm | Updated: 9:17 am, Thu Aug 16, 2012.

By Taylor Short

Killeen Daily Herald

The city of Gatesville is in talks with a defense company who is asking the city to lend airport space that would be used to build facilities for the testing of a new unmanned aircraft.

The city council agreed June 22 to allow City Manager Roger Mumby to develop a contract with L-3 Communications, the sixth largest defense company in the country that specializes in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The Carrolton-based company is asking for airport space to construct a hangar and a training facility to perform testing, training and demonstrational flights of a small, unmanned aircraft system, said L-3 Spokesman Lance Martin.

Martin said there are constraints on airspace at Fort Hood, and while L-3 is reviewing other options, the Gatesville airport's proximity to Fort Hood makes it "appealing."

"We're talking about using the airport to take off and access restricted Fort Hood airspace," he said Friday. "But there's a lot of coordination that still remains."

Martin said the defense company is in talks with Fort Hood officials and the Federal

Aviation Administration to be able to use the airspace to test the aircraft. The airport is about two miles southwest of the city and less than a mile and a half from Fort Hood.

The aircraft, a Viking 400, is the largest unmanned vehicle created by the BAI Aerosystems division of L-3, and weighs roughly 500 pounds with a 20-foot wingspan. The aircraft is flown using GPS technology and is able to carry up to 100 pounds of payload with an endurance of eight to 12 hours.

Martin said the aircraft is relatively quiet - less noise than a small propeller plane - and that the company would use the airport space as a remote test-flight facility with up to 15 flights a month.

Assistant City Manager Luis Lobo said Mumby is out of town until Monday and is unsure when a contract would be proposed to the city council. Lobo said the construction of the hangar and facility could bring jobs to the city.

Contact Taylor Short at tshort@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7476. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcove.

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