Business Monday: New indoor facility to test drones opens at Rifle Garfield County Airport |

Business Monday: New indoor facility to test drones opens at Rifle Garfield County Airport

Kyle Mills
Rifle Citizen Telegram

The sounds of drones on hand weren’t the only buzz filling the new Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting (CoE) Technodrome last week at Rifle Garfield County Airport.

More than 70 people had an up-close look Tuesday at the new 7,000-square-foot indoor facility that allows the center to safely test and evaluate different types of technology for public safety in an enclosed environment.

Center of Excellence Director Ben Miller spoke of the bright future of the center as the afternoon sun lent the fabric-covered structure a glowing yellow.

“The big advantage of the facility is that we can test new things that aren’t quite allowed or contemplated by the FFA because we are indoors,” Miller said.

“We shut the doors and do all the flying we want to in here. We fly big drones that aren’t allowed outside yet, which exceed the current rules, and if we are successful in here, it shows promise and momentum to approach the FAA.”

The $331,450 facility was approved by the Garfield Board of County Commissioners in the spring and constructed by Kuersten Construction LLC.

The Technodrome was filled with city, county and state public officials including Garfield Board of County Commissioners John Martin, Mike Samson and Tom Jankovsky.

Also on hand were Colorado Department of Public Safety Executive Director Stan Hilkey, and Division of Fire Prevention and Control Director Mike Morgan, the former chief of Colorado River Fire Rescue.

“When the decision was made to build the Center of Excellence at the airport I was the local fire chief, working with the city and commissioners to try and convince the state this was the right place to put the center,” Morgan said. “To be here today and see it moving forward really brings a smile to my face.”

The center is currently working on a handful of projects including aerial application of water enhancer studies, unmanned aerial systems, unmanned aerial systems detection, geospatial mapping and more.

“The drone piece is one of our major projects. We manage all drone operations for the entire Colorado Department of Public Safety. This process began as an internal certification process where we take our staff within Colorado Department of Public Safety to that next level beyond just the FAA certificate,” Miller said.

Located at the Rifle Garfield County Airport, the Center of Excellence employs eight staff members. Employees include firefighters, PhD electrical engineers and attorneys.

Miller said it is a dynamic team, with the ability to look at a lot of stuff and go very in-depth into new technology.

“At the Center of Excellence, we are looking at advanced technologies in public safety. We have a lot of projects, looking at what’s next. We’re looking to track public safety members in the field — firefighters, police officers and etc. — to provide them real-time geospatial information about who’s where, what team are they on, and what’s their mission,” Miller said.

“We can relate critical things to them, and move it around the incident in real-time.”

Garrett Seddon, Unmanned Systems Project Manager, reiterated why the work done at the facility in south Rifle is so important.

“After the wake of the fires of 2014, their destructive nature, the state government wanted to look at the way we do firefighting. One of those was aerial firefighting and they wanted to put in place a detection for fires to prevent devastating fires,” Seddon said.

The center looks at advanced technologies and gets it into the hands of public safety officials or practitioners on the ground, so they can use these tools to make life-saving decisions.

With the new Technodrome, the Center of Excellence has a multiuse facility at its disposal.

“Our main focus is on public-service agencies. We are here if the general public ever has any questions. We can help them answer those questions,” Seddon said. “But our training efforts and initiatives are all focused toward public safety agencies.”