Aerospace & Defense Initiative

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Our Goal

Leverage the state’s assets, seed promising industry-university research partnerships and develop a coordinated strategy for growth so Arizona can be the hub for this booming industry. A&D is a critical economic driver in Arizona and a source for significant research and innovation.

Strategic Plan for Arizona A&D

New Strategic Plan for Arizona Aerospace, Defense and Security Enterprise Defines Vision and Goals

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About the Aerospace and Defense Initiative

Arizona is a world-class center for the Aerospace and Defense (A&D) Industry. The industry contributes in excess of $15 billion annually to the state’s economy and employs over 150,000 personnel.    SFAz is committed to playing its role in growing the education and research infrastructure needed to keep this important business sector competitive.

Building on the success of the SFAz funded Aerospace and Defense Initiative the current focus of the organization is,

a)     Building the pipeline of highly skilled scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians to drive the growth and competitiveness of local industry into the future. Areas of focus are broad ranging from cyber security to sensor engineering to energy management to the development of new optical system design.

b)    Responding to the need for a coordinated research focus in new and increasingly important market sectors.  For example commercial unmanned aerial system (UAS) design and the associated protocols for their safe integration into national airspace.

To assist in building a skilled work force SFAz invests in K-20 education programs two of which are directly related to development of talent for the A&D industry.  These programs are of particular importance to this industry due to the shortage of STEM related graduates with the citizenship requirements necessary to work with Defense contractors. 40% of the students who graduated with STEM-related PhD’s in 2011 were nonresidents.

studentteachThe first is the Engineering STEM Pathways Program led by Cochise Community College, in partnership with SFAz, U.S. Army Intelligent Center at Fort Huachuca, TASC Inc, and other community and industry partners.  The STEM pathways program has industry and the local educational organizations collaborating to develop new curricula and programs of study for the training of their students. Embedded in the process are internships and real work experience.  This program is developing local talent for the highly skilled technology driven jobs within their community.

waferThe second SFAz strategic education investment is in Graduate Research.  The competitive Graduate Research Fellows (GRF) program linkIconnow in its sixth year attracts exceptional talent from across the nation to Arizona’s three Research Universities. Here the Fellows use their research ability to add to the intellectual capital of the State while continuing to hone their skills. (Add link to GRF web page). These students are the next generation of academic and industry leaders.

In response to the research needed to support and grow the emerging commercial UAS market here in Arizona SFAz in collaboration with the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), has convened a network of research teams from across the state. This group of over 300 researchers is focused on all aspects of autonomous system design and in the case of aerial systems their safe integration into national airspace.   This Collaboratory grew out of the collective desire to support the FAA’s congressional mandate to develop the technology, regulations and practices that will enable UAS to be used commercially.


Arizona’s Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Research Consortium

Arizona’s UAS Research Consortium (RC) held its annual meeting in Phoenix, on October 30th 2013. The consortium led by Tom Browning, Brig. Gen, USAF (ret.) and Dr. Mary O’Reilly, Science Foundation Arizona, (SFAz), included key faculty from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University – Prescott Campus, Arizona’s three research universities, ASU, UA and NAU and industry partner, AzLabs. This team was joined by John Regni, Lt. Gen USAF (ret), Technical Advisor to ACA for Aerospace and Defense, Dr. Steve Shope, CEO, Arizona Test Range Complex (AzTRC) and others involved in the effort to establish Arizona as home for research and testing of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

The robust agenda included a report from Mr. Ben Gielow, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), on the development of the commercial UAS market and Gen. Regni’s update on the status of the AzTRC proposal to the FAA.  The FAA is currently reviewing proposals including one from Arizona, for the designation of six UAS Test sites across the country. These test sites will be used to study all aspects for the safe integration of civil UAS into the national airspace system.

Mr. Gielow in discussing the UAS market believes that the initial primary commercial focus for UAS will be in precision agriculture and public safety. This is consistent with the findings of the Economic Impact Report published by Darryl Jenkins and Bijan Vasigh for AUVSI in March 2013 (

Dr. Andrew Sanchez-Meador, Program Director, NAU and Mr. Stephen Rayleigh, R&D Team Lead, ERAU presented their joint project as an example of the ongoing development work in the state.  Their Class 1 fixed wing prototype is designed for remote sensing in wildfire and vegetation monitoring.  Current work is focused on optimizing the rate and quality at which information can be acquired, processed and relayed to incident or environmental managers enabling them make better and more rapid decisions.  Dr. Sanchez-Meador’s specializes in image capture and analysis and Mr. Rayleigh is a UAS system operator and designer.

Dr. Werner Dahm introduced the Securities and Defense Systems Initiative (SDSI) at ASU. SDSI is designed to address the market and research needs in areas such as cyber security, advanced sensing and control, autonomous systems process development and human performance augmentation and training. Dr. Dahm reiterated that SDSI welcomes partners in support of UAS related research.

Dr. Saripalli, discussed current research program at SDSI where he and his team focus on the development and testing of algorithms for sense, avoid and landing control.  Dr. Saripalli has worked in this area for a number of years, including spending time as a technical staff member of the mobility and robotics group at NASA/JPL.

Mr. Dane Mullinex, AzLabs spoke to the development of the “Virtual Test Range” which is an integral part of the overall UAS testing infrastructure planned for development within the state. The “virtual test range” is based on a Live-Virtual-Constructed (L-V-C) simulation and modeling hub. The L-V-C hub compliments the testing capabilities at the physical test ranges as a cost effective approach to gathering test data prior to final validation.

Dr. O’Reilly provided an update to the group on the continuing privacy related concerns around UAS operation. The issue for many people is whether current privacy legislation will cover the variety of payloads that systems can carry. The RC will apply best practice in its operation and has a backup privacy policy sub-committee comprised of legal experts from both academia and the private sector to assist when needed.

Over the course of the coming months the RC under the direction of AzTRC will continue to focus on continuing to connect and strengthen the 300 plus researchers and over 1,000 companies across the State who are working in advanced engineering, test and validation, and the cyber disciplines needed to support this growing industry sector and the FAA effort.

The Research Consortium, RC, was formed as an integral component of the Arizona Test Range Complex, AzTRC to respond to both the growing interests of the UAS market and the FAA requirements to include a research capability to address six focus areas considered as obstacles to the inclusion of unmanned traffic into the national airspace.  The AzTRC is lead by the Arizona Commerce Authority.

FAA UAS Research Focus Areas

  • System Safety & Data Gathering
  • Ground and Airborne Sense & Avoid
  • Command and Control Links and Security
  • Aircraft Certification
  • Control Station Lay-out and Certification
  • Environmental Impact


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