USA Drone Port will access our region's creative assets to craft a world class unmanned vehicle research, development, training and education facility. The USA Drone Port will be the premiere model for innovation to reinvent the economy of Eastern Kentucky and help move the Commonwealth to emerging global industries.

The National Unmanned Robotic Research and Development Center will offer a 3,500' runway and circular landing pads, surrounded by Class G airspace, capable of landing fixed wing aircraft including military drones. The center will also include solution shops as well as hangars for students, inventors, technicians and manufacturers. The facilities will create a synergistic location for flying, testing, rebuilding and continued improvement of products. Gigabit enabled office space, meeting areas, common areas and computer labs will be available.

The project builds on the assets of the region, Kentucky being the second largest exporter of aerospace products. The site is ideally located to satisfy Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) guidelines. The Wendell H. Ford Airport is a critical partner by providing opportunities for clients to fly in for testing and facility utilization.

Future plans include additions for research and development of land based and underwater based drones.

What is the USA Drone Port?

The USA Drone Port, also known as the National Unmanned Robotic Research & Development Center, is a pioneering new aeronautics facility located in the beautiful mountains of eastern Kentucky near Hazard, Kentucky. Just as our coal industry once looked beneath the earth for the source of its commercial assets, today the Drone Port looks to the skies for its own most important strategic advantage—accessible Class G airspace that enables beyond-the-line-of-sight testing and refinement of emerging drone technologies. Suddenly it has been possible for our rural site to step up and become a world leader in helping to develop emerging autonomous vehicle technologies that are rapidly transforming everything from unmanned door-to-door package delivery to monitoring agricultural production to search and rescue operations.

Eighteen months after its formal launch in March 2017, the USA Drone Port already is garnering national attention for its steadfast commitment to provide world-class research, development, and workforce development opportunities for innovative small and large businesses, secondary and post-secondary education, and government entities. In fact, a wide spectrum of public and private sector leaders today regard the USA Drone Port as a key player in the ongoing expansion of the Kentucky Commonwealth’s renowned aeronautics industry. Moreover, they further understand the USA Drone Port has the capacity to accelerate Central Appalachia’s ongoing development as an essential hub for advanced manufacturing and high tech entrepreneurship.

The early incubation of the USA Drone Port—supported by a grassroots collaboration among post-secondary education, public sector leadership, private landowners, and Kentucky’s aerospace sector—already has established a firm foundation for a world-class one-stop shop that hosts innovative testing, refinement, production, and repair of robotics technologies; education, specialized training, and workforce development that can encourage and support a diverse array of industry sectors which are increasingly reliant upon the skillful deployment and use of drone technologies, and opportunities for training first responders and medical personnel in rapidly evolving drone technologies.

All of this is possible because the unmanned robotics sector today is still in its infancy. Moreover, the USA Drone Port provides a uniquely appropriate rural testing location—with ruggedly varied topography that is relatively free of constraints that characterize more densely populated areas—that can affordably host the research and development of these drone technologies. We expect the USA Drone Port will one day become one of the most versatile, sought-after testing locations in North America for testing autonomous vehicle technologies.

When Will the USA Drone Port Be Completed?

When we complete the initial phase of the USA Drone Port’s ongoing construction and development in late 2019 or early 2020, the Drone Port will provide a 500-foot runway, a secure onsite building that houses advanced manufacturing equipment, an indoor unmanned flight testing facility that provides for all-weather testing 24 hours-a-day, office space, hangars, computer labs, high-speed Internet access and a pilot safety shelter—virtually everything that leading edge private companies, small startups, educational institutions, and government agencies will need to test their most promising prototypes as well as to innovate advanced technologies on location.

Even so, our facility—located only 15 minutes downtown Hazard, readily accessible from Kentucky Highway 80—is fully available to our clients right now for multiple advanced uses. We recently have built both an asphalt runway and a small building that are set up to fabricate, build, test, repair and print robotics and accessories. The surrounding terrain and authorized airspace also are available for test flights. Additional infrastructure will be added, but the USA Drone Port as a useful entity exists right now.

For example, several Fire and Rescue Training Events, drawing first responders from multiple states, already have been conducted at the USA Drone Port. Another will be held at the end of August 2018. Moreover, our unmanned robotics classroom, currently located at the Hazard campus of Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC), has been in use for over a year, providing FAA 107 pilot’s license training, as well as space to design, develop and build drones. It is equipped with computers, a 3D printer, 3D development lab, flight simulators, and smart classroom technol-ogy. HCTC also offered a Creative Drone Videography class for the first time in August 2018.

The USA Drone Port also is establishing regional and interstate partnerships to further its long-term goals. The Kentucky Valley Education Cooperative (KVEC), for example, offers drone technology and programming opportunities to K-12 students throughout eastern Kentucky, which is helping to develop a high tech workforce for our region. Other working partnerships include locally and regionally based startup companies—including AmeriSky, which has received a grant from the National Institute of Science and Technology to develop and test a drone prototype capable of delivering heavy packages—and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest, fully accredited university specializing in aerospace and aviation, located in Florida. HCTC’s newly forged partnership with Embry Riddle will afford students in eastern Kentucky the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree even as they continue to live, work, and study in Central Appalachia.

Who directs, governs and advises the USA Drone Port?

Bart Massey, M.Ed, an experienced entrepreneur who has launched and managed multiple startup ventures, is Director of Operations for the USA Drone Port. Bart is also the HCTC Director of Technology Solutions, a licensed drone pilot, teaches both introductory classes about drone technologies as well as a course designed to prepare students for their pilot’s license certification exam, and has written several books that help individuals prepare to become licensed drone pilots.

The USA Drone Port’s Governing Board comprises the following entities: The Perry County Fiscal Court, Knott County Fiscal Court, Hazard Community and Technical College and the Wendell Ford Regional Airport Board.  

Our Advisory Board includes representatives from HCTC, Kentucky Department of Transportation Aviation branch, University of Kentucky, Morehead State University, and Eastern Kentucky University, Unmanned Services (a nationally prominent drone technology consulting firm based in Kentucky) and other agencies and firms in the fields of aeronautics, robotics, government, education and manufacturing.