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With WindShape, Skyway 36 becomes drone testing certification leader

The FAA is considering reducing the amount of hours needed for drone testing after learning of the construction of WindShape’s 19,000-square-foot facility. The facility will allow drones to be tested in various conditions – from rain, snow and ice, to electromagnetic emissions. Currently, such a facility does not exist.

An international leader in drone testing, WindShape, began construction of a new drone testing facility at Osage LLC’s Skyway 36 in May. Completion of the state-of-the-art building is planned for Nov. 2.

With support from the Federal Aviation Administration, the regulatory agency that certifies all aircraft for flight, the completed facility is slated to lower the current drone regulatory safety requirements from 3,000 hours of drone testing to a mere 80.

The FAA is considering the massive reduction in drone testing hour requirements expressly because WindShape’s specialized testing labs are now under construction. And with the completion of the WindShape building, Skyway 36 will offer a level of expert drone testing that currently does not exist anywhere else in the world.

As the industry stands now, drone companies testing whether their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – commonly called drones – can safely fly in adverse conditions must resort to makeshift solutions such as leaf blowers, said Nico Bosson. Bosson is the co-founder and chief operating officer at WindShape and he said the facility at Skyway 36 will fill a massive hole in the drone testing sector.

“We want to offer a one-stop-shop” that will not only test but also certify drones for flight, Bosson said during a presentation to the Osage LLC’s board. The facility will be located behind the Osage Nation’s Tulsa Casino and will boast two drone flight labs for testing various-sized drones as well as specialized labs for simulating and testing drone performance in adverse weather conditions.

Nico Bosson, COO/Co-founder WindShape, and Jay Shears, VP Business Development WindShape, brief the Osage LLC at a meeting on May 30, 2024, at the Minerals Council Chambers. ECHO REED/Osage News

But that is not all the facility will offer. The Skyway 36 WindShape building will also have an engineering team on-site to support with compliance, strategy, safety and performance analysis, in addition to an emissions testing lab, and a workshop where drone companies can develop prototypes and manufacture test rigs. On top of all this, the facility offers a preparation room for drones, with repair and workshop tools including 3D printers. 

WindShape chose the Osage Nation for their facility over other locations including Virginia, North Dakota, Texas, New York. “The Swiss are very diligent, very conservative and very granular in what we do,” said Shears. “When we look at something, we go very deep and very wide before we make a decision. We were overwhelmed with the value Tulsa could bring to us as a region,” said Jay Shears, the vice president of business development at WindShape.

WindShape training Osages

During a meeting with Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear during Osage Day in 2023, WindShape’s team was deeply impressed, and they took a challenge the Chief issued them during that meeting very seriously. Standing Bear’s challenge was that they develop an educational program to attract and keep Osages in the area as part of their efforts. WindShape did that.

Concurrent with construction, WindShape has launched a three-year program training eight Osages first as pilots, then as flight school teachers, and finally, as top professionals ready for the industry. This program has been handed over to the ON Education Department, and Mary Wildcat is directing it.

The program is unique and world-class, just like the facility, and Bosson said he is not concerned with competitors at this time. In addition to the fact that no other drone testing facilities like the one WindShape is building exists, Bosson also said they only have one competitor, which is based out of Japan. That competitor, however, is not building a testing facility but only offering drone testing products.

A model layout of the testing facilities WindShape is building at Skyway 36 was on display at an Osage LLC meeting on May 30, 2024, at the Minerals Council Chambers. ECHO REED/Osage News

A global destination

The risk of failure for WindShape is low, as they presented it. Over forty universities from locations around the world have purchased WindShape’s products, and they have been successfully operating since 2017. During his presentation to the board, Bosson mentioned Google in opening remarks, then said, “we intend to attract large-scale partners, together.”

Shears further outlined the difficulties that their competitors will encounter. “It requires a lot of experience to teach the algorithms [that the testing processes use,]” he said. He explained that WindShape is developing a template with unique testing rubrics tailored to FAA risk assessment needs. The FAA may agree to WindShape’s testing template prior to the opening of their facility doors in November, he said, which would mean Skyway 36 could begin lining up clients who want to test their drones before the WindShape facility is even open.      

The FAA is not the only entity attracted to Skyway 36 and WindShape. The National Center for Atmospheric Center is moving their snow machine from Denver to Skyway 36, said Shears. Another partner, GE Aviation, is planning to handle documentation for drone certification, so that visiting drone companies will not have to file paperwork themselves.  

Drone company employees “could go to the casino and focus on Tulsa all week and come back and it would be handled,” said Shears, “from testing to certification. It becomes a global destination.” After all drone-testing facility operations are up and running, WindShape will then go on to develop artificial intelligence (AI) programming for the drones, allowing them to eventually be unmanned.   

The Osage Partnership with WindShape slide presented to the Osage LLC on May 30, 2024. ECHO REED/Osage News

“We have a Department of Defense contract for someone, too, although we can’t say who,” said Shears. The DOD client will have 24-7 access to Skyway 36 to test drones over a long period of time. With all the types of drones that could undergo testing at Skyway 36, Shears noted they will gather verified, reliable data on the mechanisms and maneuvers a drone must have to be able to achieve certification. “We will be able to sell this data as intelligence to drone companies who want to plug that information into their drone software,” he said.

With WindShape’s expertise, Skyway 36 is on track to remedy the industry lack of drone testing methods, and Chief Standing Bear asked what the Nation could do to support their progress. “Do you need more appropriations?” he asked. Osage LLC’s Board Chair Galen Crum echoed the Chief. “Perhaps we can arrange another presentation,” he said to WindShape. “Congress will have new members very soon, and they may know nothing about this.”

With a large amount of money projected to come their way because of the new facility, the Osage LLC may need to consider financial disclosure agreements, as Congresswoman Paula Stabler urged them. “We’ve had embezzlements before,” she said.

The money for the Skyway 36 and WindShape venture may not be far behind construction of the new 19,000-square-foot facility, which will soon test drones in all conditions – from rain, snow and ice, to interfering frequencies, electromagnetic emissions, and anything else chance can throw at a drone.

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said a few words at an Osage LLC meeting at the Minerals Council Chambers on May 30, 2024. ECHO REED/Osage News

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Chelsea T. Hicks
Chelsea T. Hickshttps://osagenews.org
Title: Staff Reporter
Email: chelsea.hicks@osagenation-nsn.gov
Languages spoken: English
Chelsea T. Hicks’ past reporting includes work for Indian Country Today, SF Weekly, the DCist, the Alexandria Gazette-Packet, Connection Newspapers, Aviation Today, Runway Girl Network, and elsewhere. She has also written for literary outlets such as the Paris Review, Poetry, and World Literature Today. She is Wahzhazhe, of Pawhuska District, belonging to the Tsizho Washtake, and is a descendant of Ogeese Captain, Cyprian Tayrien, Rosalie Captain Chouteau, Chief Pawhuska I, and her iko Betty Elsey Hicks. Her first book, A Calm & Normal Heart, won the 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation. She holds an MA from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts.
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