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Updated Jan 18, 2014 - 3:29 pm

Private drone test site launches in southern Arizona

This undated photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows an unmanned drone used to patrol the U.S.-Canadian border. Local, state and federal agencies ranging from local sheriff's offices to the North Dakota Army National Guard have borrowed unmanned surveillance drones from the Homeland Security Department nearly 700 times in the past three years, according to government records obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (AP Photo/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. -- Despite Arizona losing out on a federal contract to be a launching pad for drones, a group in the southern part of the state is going ahead with its plans for a private test site.

The Sierra Vista Economic Development Foundation unveiled a new testing facility this week in Sierra Vista that it hopes will draw smaller companies in the unmanned-aircraft industry.

The Sierra Vista Herald reports the nonprofit foundation has dubbed the new venture Four Pillars.

``We already had a backup plan in place and not being part of the FAA's selection wasn't going to hinder it in any way,'' said Mignonne Hollis, the foundation's executive director. ``We were ready to move forward with our own test site.''

In December, the Federal Aviation Administration selected six states to be nationwide test sites for developing a plan to integrate unmanned aircraft into U.S. airspace. Arizona's bid was rejected. Hollis worked with the Arizona Commerce Authority and Thompson-Wimmer, a firm that consults on unmanned-aircraft, on the bid. She said the group changed gears and decided to focus on private, entrepreneurial companies in the industry.

The site occupies 160 acres of land in Cochise County, near Whetstone, and includes a private airport with two runways. The nonprofit plans to upgrade the runways and build a hangar. Thompson-Wimmer will manage the property. The Arizona Daily Star reports that the first year of operation will be supported by $250,000 in reserve funds from the foundation.

Hollis said being able to offer privacy for tests of new technology away from the public and competing businesses makes the facility an asset.

One of the companies already taking advantage of the training site is Cyclone, which is based in Tucson. John Waszczak, the company's chief operating officer, said Cyclone expects to bring prototype models of its unmanned aircraft to the market in 18 months.

Thompson-Wimmer CEO Trish Thompson said the proposed test site still needs to be approved by the FAA. The wait could take as long as 10 months.

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Information from: Sierra Vista Herald, http://www.svherald.com

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