RENO, NV - Developed for reconnaissance, but weaponized for war, the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, UAV or drone, is a feared player in today's armed conflicts.
The sleek, little craft with a 6 foot wing span sitting in a cradle at a remote site on the backside of the Reno Stead Airport bears little resemblance to this robotic warrior.
This is the is its peaceful, civilian cousin.
Mention drones, even one with cameras instead of Hellfire missiles and it stirs up all sorts of dark conspiracy possibilities.
Those that make and operate them say it shouldn't.
"We don't spy on anybody," says Paul Morgan, the president and CEO of Hawkeye UAV America. "We're not doing anything nefarious. We do survey grade measurement of topography."
It does have the same sort of advantages as its bigger, nastier military relative--a small, light, versatile and inexpensive alternative to a manned aircraft and quite useful.
This particular drone is manufactured by Morgan's company, Hawkeye, an American-New Zealand partnership and today it was being shown off at a remote site at Stead for prospective clients and local officials.
After running through a check list, standard operating procedure for any aircraft. It's ready for launch which is accomplished by switching its electric motor on and giving it a little shove skyward.
Remarkably quiet, it can stay aloft for 90 minutes, tracked by its operator on the ground, sending back images
This was strictly a demonstration, but on the job it might be surveying a new road or mine even keeping an eye on a farmer's fields.
"Part of our business plan is to help growers measure the growth of vineyards, the growth of trees," says Morgan, who adds the Little drone is ideal for that task and many others.
Having done its job, the drone returns to earth by parachute to a predetermined landing zone. It is clearly an efficient little workhorse and for those worried about potentially darker uses.
"I can't just take the UAV anywhere I want and just launch it out of the trunk of my car. I have to get a certificate of authorization from the FAA and I can only fly in that area."
That may or may not satisfy civil libertarians and conspiracy theorists, but the technology of the drone is apparently here to stay and they could become a common sight in the skies above Stead.
The company is looking at the possibility of locating its West Coast operations here.
"Reno is perfect for a western hub," says Morgan.
If the company does locate here, it would include training and maintenance facilities at Stead. That would mean well-paid jobs and another growing industry added to the local economy.
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