In the Columbia River Gorge, in the small town of Bingen, is Insitu — a business crafting unmanned aircraft systems for militaries across the globe.
Founded in 1994, it was created by engineers with the thought of making miniature robotic aircraft, said Patrick Host, spokesman for Insitu. On Aug. 21, 1998, Laima — a drone designed by Insitu — became the first unmanned aircraft to cross the North Atlantic.
Today, the company — now a Boeing subsidiary — creates remote-piloted aircraft that can provide surveillance, maritime surface searches and target identifications, as well as security for ports, waterways and coastal areas.
“The Gorge is a great location for Insitu because Portland International Airport is an hour away and we also do our flight testing and training in Eastern Oregon,” said Host. “There is also a regional (unmanned aerial vehicle) industry here, and many Insitu suppliers are based in the Columbia Gorge.”
Another reason the founders chose to put their drone business in the Gorge was that one of the company’s founders liked windsurfing.
Insitu regularly secures contracts from the U.S. military. In March, the U.S. Navy awarded a $21.35 million contract to Insitu to provide aircraft and airframe components.
Insitu, which employs more than 1,000 people worldwide, deployed its first ScanEagle for the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq in 2004. In 2010, it provided the Scan- Eagle to its first European customer, Poland. And in 2018, Insitu added satellite-communication-based, extended-range capabilities to its portfolio.
The Bingen company does sell commercial products but is focused on selling to militaries.
The ScanEagle is an industry-leading unmanned system with up to 18 hours of endurance. Then there’s the Integrator, which is made to be used both on land and at sea, with more than 24 hours of endurance.
The Integrator Extended Range uses the satellite-enabled communications so that the craft’s flight range goes beyond line of sight. Insitu’s website states this helps reduce the aircraft’s logistical footprint and enhances personnel safety.
The company also sells the ScanEagle3 and the RQ-21A Blackjack, which was developed in partnership with the U.S. Navy.