It's hard to find a location more remote or lacking in creature comforts than the Hyde County Airport on Pamlico Sound in eastern North Carolina. The 4,600-ft. asphalt runway, tarmac and octagonal pilot hut are swallowed up by thousands of acres of farmland, competing with dime-sized mosquitoes and roaming black bears. The area is boxed in on three sides by restricted airspace buzzing with high-speed military jets.
Yet state officials here are betting $2.5 million that the location is perfect for their entree into the agricultural unmanned air vehicle (UAV) niche, a sector that is expected to boom when the FAA allows such aircraft to begin flying in civilian airspace in 2015. Officials say an unpopulated, rural landscape is ideal for gaining experience with all manner of unmanned aircraft, and the diversity of established crops—corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and Mattamuskeet Sweets onions—will boost the applicability of the research and testing to a broader swath of the farming community.