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Drones to be tested at Rome's Griffiss AFB

Created: 12/30/2013 7:09 PM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy

ROME, NY - It may not be long before people in New York State start seeing strange looking gadgets flying overhead.

We've all seen the damage that military drones have done in other parts of world. Soon there'll be civilian versions of those unmanned aircraft, and one of only six testing grounds in the entire country will be at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York, just 80 miles from the Capital Region.

The drone testing program is expected to create as many as 2,700 jobs in New York and Massachusetts, and as many as 500 jobs at the former air base.

To counter the good economic news, skeptics point out recent failures with unmanned technology.

Last July, in Florida, for example, a drone crash caused several fires and shut down a state highway. And just last month, a drone malfunction in San Diego damaged a Navy ship and injured two American sailors.

"For the life of me, I can't imagine what need (drones) fulfill," said Terry Kindlon, a well known Albany area attorney whose been flying his Cessna for years. "If one of these things gets away and I don't want to be one of these old codgers who resists change, but the fact is that if one of these things slips it's electrical moorings, it could be over your house in 20 or 25 minutes."

According to a study by the Department of Transportation, there will be nearly 250,000 civilian and military drones in the U.S. by the year 2035.

"Right now, it's concerning," Kindlon says, "because when you've got so many things flying around and at least one of the, a private airplane, flown by a general aviation pilot, whose not on a flight plan, is at low altitude on a beautiful day, then you're asking for trouble."

Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statement Monday afternoon saying: "Today's selection by the Federal Aviation Administration of New York as one of six sites for the development of unmanned aerial vehicle systems research and test sites recognizes the State's leading role in the aerospace industrucy, as well as our considerable assets in innovation and research and development."

The statement goes on to say: "Our selection today will help yield future economic development and job creation and retention opportunities in Upstate New York, and we will continue supporting innovation and all high-tech, emerging industries to grow and prosper right here in our State."

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