Drones may soon prompt big business in Southwest Virginia

WISE COUNTY, VA (WJHL)- Drone industry leaders met at Lonesome Pine Airport Thursday to talk about opportunities in Wise County.

The area has caught the eye of drone companies and some hope it can be the hub for this industry in the future.

Wise County has already made history with drones. Last July, the county partnered with NASA, and the Remote Area Medical clinic to drop medication via drones for the first time in U.S. history.

Thursday in Wise County leaders talked about the future of the drone industry, and the potential to bring jobs to a county that is still recovering from the decline of the coal industry.

By 2025 some researchers predict the drone industry will have over 100,000 high-paying jobs.

Leaders in Wise want to make sure this area gets a key piece of the industry, starting now in learning, researching, and developing drones.

“I think it can definitely happen as I said other areas of the state they can’t get their act together what I see here is Wise has gotten their act together. They’ve gotten those community groups to actually move forward,” Richard Antcliff, chief strategist with NASA Langley Research Center said.

Wise County leader Jack Kennedy has started the Fly Wisely Accelerator Corp. to make it easier and faster for companies to get involved here.

“The accelerator’s purpose is to aid people that are already in business, speed their productivity, grow their business more rapidly, to where they can have more jobs and be more creative,” Kennedy said.

“It can be a single point of contact for startups, for big companies to do testing, to do product development, and also get connected with all the assets in the state so they come here as a one stop shop and they can do a number of things to get their businesses off the ground,” Shyam Chidamber, advisor for the international drove delivery company Flirtey said.

Flirtey is the first drone delivery company to fly with FAA permission in the U.S. It owns the drones that made the first medical drone delivery in Wise. The company is also thinking about investing here.

“We might be manufacturing drones here, we might be testing drones here, we might do a number of things here which would be a first,” Chidamber said. “This could be the start of something hopefully really really big.”

Aurora Flight Sciences is talking about testing the Centaur plane here, a plane that can fly pilotless.

“We’d start with probably one aircraft like the Centaur doing probably mapping and surveying type work maybe some emergency management type work and then grow it from there,” Jeff Harlan with Aurora Flight Sciences said. “We’re looking to expand and we’re looking to help create jobs in Virginia and we were asked to take a look at the region and see if we could help and I really think there’s a way we can help.”

“Unmanned Ariel Systems enable an array of different ideas, from power line/ pipeline inspections to measuring the health of vegetation,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said possibilities with drones are endless and he is hopeful this industry will create jobs for people here in Wise County.

Fly Wisely Accelerator Corp. will also seek significant state, federal, and private funding to drive the research, development, and manufacturing of drones.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

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