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The First All-Drone Airport Is Opening In Texas

Flickr user Greg Goebel,
A Grey Shadow drone, the same type of aircraft slated to be housed at a new complex in El Paso's Fort Bliss.

A new airport is being built at the Fort Bliss military base in El Paso, but it won't cater to pilots or offer any amenities common to the typical airstrip. It's being built exclusively to house the U.S. Army aerial drones.

If an aerial drone fleet housed in a state-of-the-art bunker sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, you're not far off. The Texas Standard's David Brown speaks with John Horgan, writer for the Scientific American online and teacher at the Stevens Institute for Technology

Horgan has followed the development of the military's drone program for some time – and he paints a vivid portrait of how these drones may be used in the future.

"Nobody had heard of drones before 9-11," Horgan says. "We went from having maybe a couple of hundred drones in 2001, to over 12,000 a decade later." It's that increase that led the military to seek special accommodations for the growing fleet.

The $33 million plan will encompass 150 acres and over a mile of runways and taxiways, but the question many may be asking is, why Texas? Horgan says the state may pose a certain level of strategic value. "I think probably the most obvious application would be doing border control," he says.

For many Texans, the very mention of the word "drone" can strike a certain chord in those who fear their proliferation may lead to trouble: air safety issues and personal privacy violations, for instance. Horgan says that while there are many developments in the realm of military and law enforcement drones, there are just as many civilian uses for drones, including tasks like farming and traffic control.

While Texas may be the first to receive a drone-exclusive facility, it probably won't be the last. "I think facilities like this will be cropping up all over the states," Horgan says. "I think what you're seeing in Texas is the beginning of a long term trend."

David entered radio journalism thanks to a love of storytelling, an obsession with news, and a desire to keep his hair long and play in rock bands. An inveterate political junkie with a passion for pop culture and the romance of radio, David has reported from bases in Washington, London, Los Angeles, and Boston for Monitor Radio and for NPR, and has anchored in-depth public radio documentaries from India, Brazil, and points across the United States and Europe. He is, perhaps, known most widely for his work as host of public radio's Marketplace. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to Texas full-time in 2005, Brown joined the staff of KUT, launching the award-winning cultural journalism unit "Texas Music Matters."
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