Choctaw Nation, Bell to Enhance Aviation Tech on Tribal Test Site in Rural Okla.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in May 2018 named the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma as one of nine active UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) sites in the country. (cnoaa.com)

The Trump Administration announced an initiative in October 2017 to begin testing and validating advanced operations for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, in partnership with Tribal, state and local governments in select jurisdictions. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma — one of nine active UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) sites selected by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in May 2018 from a competitive pool of more than 200 Tribal, state and city governments — recently established an agreement for Bell to begin testing its mobility systems, like the Bell Autonomous Pod Transport and the Bell Nexus, on the Nation’s test site location in rural southeastern Oklahoma.

The Choctaw Nation, Bell and their partners will work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NASA, and other federal agencies to enhance emerging aviation technologies and operations to help the United States retain a global leadership position in aviation technology.

Carey Cannon, Bell’s chief engineer of Innovation, noted that the Choctaw Nation was an “obvious choice for flight test activity” because of its proximity to Dallas-Fort Worth, as well as the Nation’s commitment to building facilities that support requirements necessary for these operations. “In return, Bell is providing guidance to CNO on the creation of their Emerging Aviation Technology Test Center in regard to safety and efficient flight operations,” he added. 

James Grimsley, Executive Director of Advanced Technology Initiatives with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, acknowledged Bell is a “well-established industry leader,” adding that the partnership will allow the Nation “to explore new possibilities and applications in this industry.”

In late 2019, Choctaw Nation and Bell announced that Bell had joined CNO’s UAS IPP team where flights and tests will be conducted as part of the FAA UASIPP in preparation for future planned beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and other more advanced UAS operations. 

Bell Nexus

UAS IPP Program

The Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) is an opportunity for state, local, and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe UAS integration. The program will help the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and FAA craft new enabling rules that allow more complex low-altitude UAS operations by:

  • Identifying ways to balance local and national interests related to UASintegration
  • Improving communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions
  • Addressing security and privacy risks
  • Accelerating the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations

The program is expected to foster a meaningful dialogue on the balance between local and national interests related to UAS integration and provide actionable information to the USDOT on expanded and universal integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.

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