Virginia Tech is becoming increasingly well known for its research to move unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, from niche applications to public use. The initiative has been made possible largely by the efforts of one Virginia Tech employee in particular.

Thanks in part to the work of Jon Greene, Virginia Tech is on the cutting edge of a billion-dollar movement to introduce unmanned aircraft to the nation’s skies. His efforts as the director of strategic planning and development for the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science have firmly positioned the university as a leader in the field of unmanned aerial systems.

When the Federal Aviation Administration issued a national call for proposals for testing unmanned aircraft systems, Greene organized an award-winning team from the Commonwealth of Virginia and New Jersey that included nine academic partners, industry partners, and five economic development organizations. 

As a result, in December 2013, the FAA announced that Virginia Tech had been selected as one six national test sites for unmanned aerial vehicles

He also implemented a plan for long-term success of the designated test site that comprises air space in Virginia, New Jersey, and Maryland by providing a strong foundation for operations and outcome applications, as well as the necessary groundwork.

More recently, Greene was successful in his efforts to bring together a companion initiative for funding support from the Commonwealth of Virginia. The state announced in December 2013 that it will award more than $2.6 million over three years in Federal Action Contingency Trust (FACT) funds to Virginia Tech to operate an unmanned aircraft systems test site.

The grants will provide Virginia Tech with $1 million in fiscal year 2014, an additional $1.2 million in fiscal 2015, and $437,000 in fiscal 2016.

The test range is operated by the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, which is led by Virginia Tech, and includes academic partners Rutgers University and the University of Maryland, among others. It represents an effort to safely develop unmanned aircraft systems. 

Partnership leaders say integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace is expected to bring between 180 and 860 additional jobs to the commonwealth, create between $45 million and $164 million in additional economic activity, and result in between $1 million to $2 million in additional state and local tax revenue per year by 2023, project leaders said. 

Integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace could add more than $13.6 billion to the nation’s economy by the end of the decade, reaching as high as $82.1 billion by 2025, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

In addition to his regular responsibilities within the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences, Greene previously served as the interim executive director for the new test site and has recently taken on the role of associate director representing Virginia. His colleagues recognize his unwavering devotion toward the designation as he continues to implement the necessary groundwork to ensure its speedy and successful launch. 

“Jon exemplifies the nimbleness and can-do attitude needed to make Virginia Tech a premier transformative, interdisciplinary research institution focused on achieving a sustainable future for all,” said Roop Mahajan, director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.