Choctaw Nation was the only tribal government selected to participate in FAA’s unmanned aircraft systems pilot program. Their unmanned aircraft research and development program is leading the way forward.

Five years ago, if you went to aviation conferences or conventions or trade shows around the world, people wouldn’t have known who the Choctaw Nation was. Now we go just about anywhere, people know the Choctaw Nation, because they know that we’re associated with this emerging aviation technology.
James Grimsley
Executive Director, Advanced Technology Initiatives, Choctaw Nation
The Choctaw Nation and Drones
One-on-one interview with Choctaw Nation’s Executive Director of Advanced Technology Initiatives.
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It was just five years ago that Choctaw Nation purchased a large tract of land in southeastern Oklahoma. In looking for innovative uses for the property that would keep it pristine, the idea of an aviation test range emerged. Fast forward several years later and Choctaw Nation has rapidly developed a core competency in unmanned aviation technology.

As James Grimsley, Choctaw Nation’s Executive Director of Advanced Technology Initiatives, notes, there’s a two-faceted approach to the technology. “We’re looking at not only being able to promote this technology for economic development, opportunities for growth, jobs, bring industry here, that part of it,” he says. “But also, how do we use this in a way that betters everyone’s life in all aspects — health, quality, time saving, being able to spend more time doing what you want to do rather than being in traffic.”

Choctaw Nation has always been driven by a vision for the future, and that includes looking at today’s changing transportation needs. Grimsley’s solution is to think vertically: “Instead of everyone being constrained to the highways, let’s take the first 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the surface and figure out how to turn that into a transportation network.”

Another long-term consideration is future generations. Some of the biggest supporters of Choctaw Nation’s drone efforts have been school superintendents and teachers. The investments being made now are seeds that are going to grow and pay dividends in 20 or 30 years.

We’re the first tribal government to be recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration as a public aircraft operator. We’re also the only tribal government to be selected as the lead participant in FAA’s unmanned aircraft systems unmanned pilot program.
Gary Batton
Chief, Choctaw Nation

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