SNOW HILL – County officials added their support this week to a bid to bring the Triton unmanned aircraft to NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility.
The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to draft a letter of support for the effort to bring the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft to Wallops Island. The facility is one of three locations under consideration for the project, which would bring 400 new jobs to Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Delegate Mary Beth Carozza and Senator Jim Mathias were both in attendance to voice their support of the initiative.
“Triton’s the future,” Mathias said. “It’s critically important that we do this.”
The Wallops Island Regional Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to protecting and promoting the flight facility, is working to gain tri-state support for bringing the Triton to Wallops Island. The Navy is currently considering the Virginia facility, which is located 45 miles from Ocean City, as well as two sites in Florida, according to Merry Mears, the county’s economic development director.
“Our location’s strengths include uncrowded airspace and because of our rural nature, there are no encroachment issues for this type of activity,” Mears said. “Additionally, Wallops is already an established center of unmanned aerial vehicle activity.”
Peter Bale, chairman of the Wallops Island Regional Alliance, said that if the Virginia site was granted the Triton contract it would bring 400 new jobs to the area. Roughly half of Wallops Island’s current employees live in Worcester County.
“The opportunity is immense,” Bale said. “It’s really unique.”
In addition to the positive economic impact the project would have, Bale said it was suited to Wallops Island because the facility was already home to other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as NASA’s RQ-4 Global Hawks.
Bale said the effort to bring the project to Wallops had been embraced by officials in Maryland and Virginia and would be presented to politicians in Delaware.
“It’s really bringing Delmarva together,” he said.
Bale added that he had fielded some concerns about the project, primarily from people who were concerned that the Triton aircraft would invade privacy. In material presented by Bale, the Triton was described as a UAV capable of flying for a day at a time and monitoring huge swaths of ocean.
“This is purely an information gathering tool that’ll be used over the Atlantic Ocean to protect our borders,” Bale said.
Mathias encouraged the commissioners to lend their backing to the Triton initiative. He said Wallops Island had already proven its importance to the aerospace industry with its past projects. Mathias believes the Antares explosion that took place at Wallops Island in 2014 hasn’t diminished the site’s importance.
“Look at the projects done when government comes together,” he said. “You can take unfortunate challenges like the explosion and in a few months we’re back on track again. We’re giving it all we got.”
Carozza said if Triton came to Wallops Island it could lead to other projects in the future.
“I think this is an opportunity for us to work together,” she said. “This would be exciting to have at NASA Wallops.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to send Navy officials a letter in support of making Wallops Island the East Coast base for the Triton UAV.
“It’s a definite win for the Eastern Shore and Worcester County,” Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw said.