Skyway36: Inside Tulsa, Oklahoma’s drone superhighway

For the ultimate airport for drones, head to Tulsa, Oklahoma. There you’ll find Skyway36, which is being billed not as an airport, but a droneport. There, businesses can test more complicated types of drone flights, including those where the drone flies beyond the operator’s line of sight, or flights using laser aircraft that would theoretically be capable of carrying humans.

And it’s got government support too. Funding came in part by a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The Skyway36 logo gives a nod to its Native American ties.

Osage, which is a company focused specifically on developing and investing in new technologies and infrastructure, leads the project. The company of Osage is actually an enterprise of the Osage Nation. Osage Nation is a federally recognized Native American tribal government with headquarters in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. 

Go inside Skyway36: the ultimate droneport 

Image courtesy of Osage.

The Tulsa location is unique, particularly given its specific position in Osage Nation’s aerospace innovation zone. That zone entails dedicated facilities including an indoor, state-of-the-art drone test facility. An indoor facility is particularly clever because indoor drone flights are not subject to Federal Aviation Administration regulations. 

Then, there’s a 3,000-foot runway designed for larger, fixed-wing drones. Plus, a certified helipad enables both conventional helicopters and electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (eVTOLs). On top of that, there’s office space available for businesses to set up operations on site. Plus, hangar space enables more aircraft storage.

And the facility is workable for all sorts of drone flights, whether it’s drone delivery test flights, mapping missions or first response practice.

How the droneport works

Image courtesy of Osage.

DronePort Network manages the site under contract to Osage LLC. The site marks the first commercial node on the Skyway Range Flight Corridor, a 114-nautical mile drone corridor.

Vigilant Aerospaces provides the droneport’s airspace management and UTM system, effectively serving as the area’s drone traffic controller. Through its data sets, it can predict the future trajectories of drones. From there, it can offer up standards-compliant avoidance commands to the drone’s pilot.

It’s all controlled through Vigilant’s FlightHorizon software, and supported by Vigilant Aerospace’s detect-and-avoid sensor system.

“With FlightHorizon, Skyway36 will be able to track and coordinate drones, detect intruding aircraft and provide a safe environment for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight of drones, which is essential for growing the UAS industry,” according to a statement from Vigilant Aerospace.

The FlightHorizon software was built using ideas from two NASA patents. Its data comes from a few sources including aircraft transponders, radar, drone autopilots, and live FAA data.

The state of drone superhighways in 2024

There are a few “superhighways” out there, including in New York and the United Kingdom. One of the earliest drone superhighways opened in 2019. It runs through mostly-rural areas from Central New York to New York’s Mohawk Valley. The multi-year project to build a New York drone superhighway was actually initiated way back in 2016. Then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $30 million state investment to develop a drone traffic management system between Syracuse and the FAA’s NYS UAS Test Site at Griffiss International Airport.

Then there’s the U.K superhighway, called Project Skyway. The 165-mile UK drone highway links the midlands to the southeast of the country. That’s primarily the skies above Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry and Rugby. U.K. UTM company Altitude Angel provides the software to manage Project Skyway.

And while Oklahoma’s new drone superhighway is still in its early stages, it’s shaping up to be one of the nation’s most ambitious advanced air mobility projects yet.

While the Tulsa port marks the first of what’s called a ‘commercial node’ on the Skyway Range Flight Corridor, planners intend to develop three more major nodes.

And it’s all an effort to build up Tulsa as a hub for tech. Many — often mid-size — cities, have sought to capitalize on the drone craze. North Dakota was an early adopter when it built the nation’s first unmanned airport during the summer of 2015. Reno, Nevada has also materialized as a promising drone hub. Promising examples of Reno’s innovation include serving as headquarters of drone delivery company Flirtey. In tandem, Flirtey has been flying its drones beyond visual line of site at the FAA test site in Reno. 

But Tulsa’s businesses want a slice, too.

“As an officially designated Tech Hub by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Tulsa region and our droneport can play an important role in the national development of autonomous systems,” Russell Goff, CEO of Osage said in a prepared statement.

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