A rural Oregon city has become a hub for drone testing. Now, it wants to expand its capacity

KUOW - 11-10


A dream to make rural Pendleton, Oregon into a drone testing mecca is becoming very real. It's so real, in fact, that the city-owned airport has run out of hangar space to rent to global aerospace companies. Now, the Pendleton airport is seeking millions more in public funding to help expand.Darryl Abling, the Pendleton Unmanned Aircraft Systems Range manager, remembers that turning Pendleton into a haven for unmanned aircraft testing was "a big gamble" at the beginning. That was back in 2013, when the city applied to become a federally-approved flight test range for drones of all sizes."And then it was really like the dog chasing the car that finally catches it," Abling said. "You know, what do I do?"The Eastern Oregon Regional Airport used city and state money to build a new hangar, renovate another and outfit a mission control center. Abling said business started out slow in a place better known for vast wheat fields, woolen blankets or its big rodeo. Then about two years ago, business picked up pace."Once you got one or two major players in, the word got out. 'Hey, Pendleton is the place to test,'" Abling said. "You've got outstanding customer service. You've got great infrastructure, good weather, open space. It has just snowballed from there."