By Tonya Garner: Freedom Newspapers
Perched on the front lawn of the Clovis Community College, the spy plane looked strikingly similar to a praying mantis.
Produced by Boeing, the unmanned aerial vehicle known as the ScanEagle was brought to Clovis in preparation for training classes scheduled to begin today at the college.
Boeing, the world’s leading aerospace company and the largest combined manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft, will use CCC classrooms to train company personnel to operate and maintain the 4-foot robotic airplane, according to Boeing spokesman Chick Ramey.
Flight training will be held at the Melrose Bombing Range.
Ramey said Boeing will train 12 individuals in a two-month course with new classes beginning every 30 days. Ramey said the initial group of trainees will be made up of Boeing employees, but as military customers purchase the ScanEagle system, service men and women will join the training program as well.
Clovis Community College President John Neibling said he was excited about the new training program.
“This is a great opportunity to partner with a great company (Boeing),” Neibling said. “Anything like this just adds to our (CCC) opportunities.”
The president said the college has been working closely with Boeing to ensure the facilities meet classroom requirements associated with UAV training.
Clovis banker Randy Harris played an integral role in the new partnership between the college and Boeing, according to CCC officials. Harris said discussions regarding a new training site began with Boeing 10 months ago.
Although Boeing will be sharing air space at the Melrose Bombing Range with the Air Force Special Operations 16th Wing, Harris said he foresees no problems between the trainees and military personnel.
“Air space will not be a problem because the Boeing trainees will only need a few hours,” Harris said.
According to Harris, the program is “starting off slow” but could eventually grow to classes of 200.
Boeing Training Systems and Services Vice President Keith Hertzenberg said Clovis is an ideal training location for the new robotic airplane.
“The site has everything we need to accomplish efficient ScanEagle training, and in turn, we expect our presence will result in a positive economic impact to the community.”
Ramey said Clovis was chosen as a testing site due to its airspace access, weather, infrastructure and affordability.
“This endeavor complements the military,” Harris said, “and there will be many more to come.”
The ScanEagle is currently used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The unmanned aerial vehicle is equipped with an infrared camera, located in the nose of the drone, which is capable of providing 15 real-time hours of data. While capable of flying 16,000 feet, the ScanEagle is most commonly flown at 1,600 feet.
ScanEagle is launched autonomously via a pneumatic catapult launcher. It is retrieved using a patented “Skyhook” system in which the UAV catches a rope hanging from a 50-foot pole. The system is runway independent and can be operated from moving vehicles and ships.