A local business opened up its usually very secretive facility for a tour today. Drone America designs and manufactures unmanned aircraft, right here in town.
Drones are usually associated with military operations, but according to Drone America's president, his aircraft aren't designed necessarily to be weaponized. They are designed for humanitarian reasons.
The Ariel 22 is one of Drone America's prototypes, and looks like a double-decker hobby plane, about the size of a car. It is made to do surveillance, fire suppression, and disaster relief. It can deliver flotation devices to people in floods, and it can even work to prevent malaria by suppressing mosquitoes. And it's getting a lot of attention from the Navy and the Air Force, and Friday, a visit from Senator Dean Heller.
"It is always amazing for me to come to some of these places and look at what's going on," Heller said after his tour.
"We would like to build the industry in Nevada," Drone America President Mike Richards said, "so that we not only focus on aerial vehicles, but ground robots, undersea vehicles, and eventually space."
DA drones also have a military application: they can do surveillance in conflict-filled areas, looking for things like Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). And they do it without risking the life of a pilot.
"What we do is to help keep soldiers, airmen, and sailors from harm's way, making sure that they have the best technology available, so that they can come home," Richards said.
One of the elements that makes these drones unique, according to Richards, is that they have better protection for the equipment inside, in case of a crash. They are amphibious, meaning they can handle going in water, they have two engines in case one fails, and they are equipped with ballistic parachutes.