Unmanned Flight: the Next Chapter of Ohio’s Aerospace Legacy

Ryan Smith

Former Director - Unmanned Arial Systems Operations
State of Ohio

From the Wright Brother’s first flight to the first footprints on the moon by Ohio’s Neil Armstrong, Ohio has always been a leader in aerospace – including unmanned flights. After all, it was Ohio’s Charles Kettering who achieved the first successful drone flight in Dayton with his Kettering Bug in 1918. Lifted by an entrepreneurial sprit that would make Orville and Wilbur Wright proud, Ohio’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) industry truly took off in 2015. Honoring our proud history of firsts in flight, we are today experiencing a new dawn in drone technology.

Over the past year we’ve seen the creativity of the human spirit result in all sorts of unique and innovative ways to use unmanned technology that can improve our lives. From increasing cultivated crop yields to monitoring invasive species in our local parks, from evaluating environmental impacts of old mining operations to monitoring the integrity of the pavement we drive on and even providing great aerial video of our favorite golf tournament –The Memorial, of course – Ohio has seen an exciting expansion in the innovative uses for drone technology. The continued development of this technology is limited only by our imaginations. 

Across Ohio, we’ve developed a strategy we call “Create, Collaborate and Fly.”

  • We’ve worked hard to create an environment that is friendly to the UAS community, avoiding burdensome red tape while drawing upon state and local resources – such as JobsOhio and The Entrepreneur Center – to support the growth of small businesses. Ohio boasts eight small unmanned aircraft manufacturers and 65 thriving commercial UAS operators and more than 100 enterprises focused on the industry. If it flies on a UAS it’s probably made in Ohio. 
  • As entrepreneurs know, starting a small business is often a long and lonely road. That’s where collaboration comes in handy. Ohio has 14 colleges and universities with UAS programs, including Sinclair Community College, which was the first college in the United States to offer commercial UAS pilot training certificates. Ohio also is fortunate to have The Ohio State University Agricultural Extension, which educates farmers and conducts sensor research, along with the Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA Glenn Research Center and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, all three of which have numerous ongoing UAS programs.
  • In 2014, there were really only three or four major locations to fly in Ohio. Today, thanks to aggressive efforts by small businesses, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center, more than 80 percent of Ohio is open for UAS flying, including our six UAS-specific flying ranges.

This strategy already is paying off. One of our small UAS manufacturers, Event38 in Akron, has sold its aircraft in 50 countries around the world. Sinclair now hosts the National UAS Training and Certification Center. Among our 65 commercial operators, Columbus’ Woolpert was the first company in the nation authorized to conduct mapping and surveying operations; Asymmetric Technologies, also in Columbus, was the first in the nation permitted to conduct bridge inspections; and Workhorse Group in Loveland is a finalist for a U.S. Postal Service contract that may allow drone package delivery from trucks. These are just a few of the more than 100 small businesses across Ohio focused on delivering UAS services.

Ohio, along with its federal, local and commercial partners, has established itself as a national player in this exciting and emerging industry. If you’re not in Ohio yet, we’d love for you to join us. Create your business. Collaborate with others exploring unmanned technologies. And Fly Ohio!