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Oklahoma Chosen to Test Unmanned Aircraft

BROKEN ARROW, Okla.- Oklahoma has been chosen by the Department of Homeland Security to be one of the first states in the nation to test an unmanned aircraft made by Tactical Electronics.

The military already uses unmanned aircrafts, like the Predator, and police departments are using much smaller, similar versions. Soon, private businesses will use them because they are generally cheaper, safer and faster.

This unmanned aircraft is called a RAPTR, weighs from 30 to 50 pounds and depending on the weather, can fly for about an hour. The RAPTR is equipped with cameras and records on an HD card. It can see in low light and has thermal imaging. It can be flown manually or automatically on a flight pattern set up through GPS, using way points. It currently must be operated by licensed pilots.

“The batteries can be swapped out in less than two minutes and get right back up in the air,” said Ben Kimbro, of Tactical Electronics.

Police departments are already using them for situations like stand-offs, where officers need a set of eyes in the air to see potential dangers. They could also be used to fight wildfires; to see the path without risking firefighter’s lives. Another application is a search and rescue mission.

Those lost in a big field would be found by a helicopter, which then notifies first responders. The RAPTR can even drop a bottle of water or medical supplies, enough to keep a person alive until help arrives.

Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to create a plan that allows unmanned aircrafts to safely use national air space. Soon, ranchers could use them to survey their crops and pipeline companies could use them to check for leaks, to cover ground faster and not expose workers to fumes.

“Flare stack inspections cost $2,000 an hour, and are extremely dangerous,” Kimbro said. “They put a climber on the stack. We can do the same search in one-sixteenth of the time, with scarcely any of the costs and without any climbers being put in harm’s way.”

Now that Oklahoma is a testing ground for unmanned aircrafts, the sky is the limit for becoming the number one place for operations, research, and design. A traditional helicopter can cost millions to buy and about $1,500 an hour to operate. The RAPTR sells for around $150,000, fully-loaded.

Arlington police have a helicopter and it is expensive to operate, but they have two RAPTRs and used them to work security at the Super Bowl.

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