Picture Stories From Earth: Drone Home

My interest was piqued by this article on drone bases in the US. Formerly called UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicles) by the military, they are now known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) — less sexist, and likely a better fit for the bureaucracy because they now fit a known pigeonhole.

In particular, the map shows a SOCOM ScanEagle operation at Arlington, Oregon. I’ve driven through there on my way to Portland. It says “Welcome to Arlington” on both sides of the sign. It hosts a grain-loading facility on the Columbia River, plus some stores that, as someone once said, sell gas and snacks to truckers who stop to deliver gass and snacks. The cost of building the highway exit from Interstate 84 was probably higher than the value of the town. What possible thing could SOCOM be doing there?

Quick, to the imagery bank!

It turns out that just down the road from the town is Arlington Municipal Airport, a highfalutin name for a 5000ft dirt strip.

Arlington, Oregon, and Arlington Muni

It opened in 1943, and in imagery of 1996 appeared tidy and well kept.

Arlington Muni, 1996

Ten years later it appeared to have run down a bit, and a new facility appeared — a concrete pad with a perimeter security fence and a couple of small structures. This was apparently the test facility used by Insitu, a builder of drones for the US Army.
UPDATE: Turns out, the Scan Eagle drone was first developed to monitor tuna fishing boats, to make sure they were complying with dolphin safety regulations.

Arlington Muni, 2006, with new Insitu facility

By 2011, Insitu had been acquired by Boeing Corporation, and a new building had appeared. Also in the picture, just off the upper right corner of the building, is what looks like the launcher for the Insitu drone, called ScanEagle.

Insitu test facility, with probable launcher

So there you have it. It’s not a secret SOCOM base for spying on us. It’s a low-budget contractor test facility,

Insitu/Boeing ScanEagle drone on its launcher

that probably uses the local flight restricted area to the east as their test flight airspace.

VFR map of Arlington area. Note the restricted flight zone to the east.


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