Investors Excited About Drone Testing

Investors Prepare to Head To McAlester, Where the Choctaw Nation is Leading in Drone Testing and Development

The Choctaw Nation, near McAlester, Oklahoma, is at the epicenter of a technological revolution. New technologies found in drones, Electric-Powered Aircraft and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) have the potential to revolutionize flight, transportation, and how we approach everyday challenges. They’re being tested at the Choctaw Nation’s Daisy Ranch. “It’s an exciting technology, like the first days of the automobile. Now we can use batteries where we had to use steam and then gasoline. We can go further, be lighter, and have smaller engines. Technology is changing rapidly and multiple technologies are merging at once. That’s creating opportunities in the market that there hasn’t been a vision for before,” said Michael Southard, Director of Choctaw Nation Business & Economic Development.

Michael sees the long-term potential of autonomous aircraft and its ability to dramatically change how people interact with technology. For example, drones can be equipped with infrared scanners that allow ranchers to remotely scan livestock to determine if any are ill and then conduct in-person inspections as needed. Ranchers and farmers will see benefits in medication delivery as well. “If an animal is in the pasture sick it can take hours to make the round trip to the veterinarian and come back with medication. By that time the animal could have wandered off and may be in worse condition. Using drones, a veterinarian could send medication to the animal’s location so it can be administered quickly and safely, potentially saving its life,” he said. “We’re seeing interesting intersectionality between rural communities and technology - two things that haven’t historically come together. And farmers aren’t the only ones who can benefit. We have tested rural package delivery and the monitoring of rural power lines as well.” 

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The applications and technologies being tested at Daisy Ranch prove that there’s no end to the ways drones can be used to solve challenges. “We have companies on site testing every week,” said Michael. Uber and Bell are perhaps the most recognizable. Bell, for example, is working closely with the Choctaw Nation and providing insight as to what they will need to support continued R&D and the future manufacturing of the
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In working with Bell, and others, the Choctaw Nation identified the systems and tools that are necessary to support the privacy and continuity companies require to effectively test their technology. Some of the necessary systems are already in place. For example, radar systems make it possible to detect airplanes and helicopters 30 miles out, allowing companies to ground and move their equipment for safety and privacy purposes. A command center and sleeping trailer are on site as well. 

This summer, the tribe is starting construction on a MakerSpace and a permanent Command Center. The MakerSpace will make Daisy Ranch one of a kind in the world. “Currently, companies are having to leave testing sites and drive back to their facilities when parts break. This will typically stall testing for a day or several. Our MakerSpace will solve this problem. With several 3D scanners and printers available for use, companies can immediately print replacement parts and run tests without costly delays,” said Michael. 

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In the future, a Welcome Center will house a tornado shelter, kitchen and laundry facilities and have space for large RV parking for engineers. The Choctaw Nation also envisions building helicopter pads and a grandstand so investors can fly in, watch or fly the drones, and do so with efficiency. “We understand how important investment is to growing technology companies. At Daisy Ranch, we will have everything in place to make it easy for companies to showcase their technology to potential investors.” These on-the-ground assets will make Daisy Ranch the world’s most comprehensive, non-military, flight testing facility. 

That only scratches the surface of why companies are heading to McAlester and Daisy Ranch. The unique standing of the tribe and established federal treaties mean that the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma can overcome barriers that stifle innovation progress. Put simply, companies can fly their drones and test new technologies on Choctaw Nation property in ways that they can’t do anywhere else. “Even Canadian companies are coming here to test since the only other large space to test is on a military base, which is difficult to access. Plus, our special relationship with the FAA makes us a valuable partner,” said Michael. “Staff at our site can certify pieces of equipment on behalf of the FAA.” That’s because the Choctaw Nation received the nation’s initial IPP designation and subsequent BEYOND program designation. As a result, information on flight safety that’s obtained at Daisy Ranch is being used to craft the regulations that will eventually govern autonomous flight. 

“It’s an exciting time to be in McAlester, Oklahoma,” said Kirk Ridenour, Economic Development Director for McAlester. “The Choctaw Nation is simultaneously helping to craft government regulation and providing the testing facilities our nation’s most innovative companies need to create the next generation of flight. To have feet in both sectors of this emerging industry - government and the private sector is unique to our region and it positions us for transformative growth. McAlester could become its own type of Silicon Valley,” he added. Michael Southard agrees. “We are not creating the technology here but we are nurturing it and making it possible for that technology to grow. Without an open, self-regulated testing facility, companies like Uber and Bell would be unable to test the limits of their imagination, to create and innovate in ways that we can now only dream of. As a sovereign nation, we can give them the freedom to explore and we all will be better for it.”

See more about the Choctaw Nation Advanced Technology Initiatives Program here:

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About McAlester, Oklahoma

McAlester has historically been a destination for the defense and aviation industries. With a history of manufacturing and workforce training programs to support continued growth, there is a great deal of synergy between advancements in drone technology and what McAlester’s been producing for decades. The community has available buildings and a ready workforce. To learn more about the opportunities to do business in McAlester or the Choctaw Nation, contact Kirk Ridenour at