Mark Blanks has been named associate director of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech.

Blanks will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of Virginia Tech’s test site for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). He will also work closely with the partnership's Executive Director Rose Mooney and the associate directors at Rutgers University and the University of Maryland, the partnership’s other two sites, to develop common practices and coordinate business development.

“Mark brings a depth of experience that will help raise MAAP to new levels,” Mooney said “He is highly regarded in the industry and I am delighted that he has decided to join our team.”

Blanks has extensive experience in the aviation industry, with expertise ranging from aircraft operations and maintenance to program development and industry outreach.

Most recently, he served as the program manager for unmanned aircraft systems at the Applied Aviation Research Center at Kansas State University. He was responsible for its UAS research and development program and established partnerships with companies and agencies. He served as the principal investigator on funded research projects including natural resource management, airworthiness certification, and power infrastructure assessment.

Blanks also served as the flight operations manager and interim director of the UAS program at Middle Tennessee State University and has presented invited lectures across the country on UAS topics.

As the director of the UAS test site at Virginia Tech, Blanks’ responsibilities will include technical operations and risk management, as well as business development and public and media relations.

The Federal Aviation Administration selected Virginia Tech in December, 2013, as one of six national UAS test sites. The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership oversees the test site as part of its mission to support the Federal Aviation Administration in integrating UAS into the national airspace.

The partnership, which acts as a catalyst for the growth of the UAS industry in the U.S., has actively conducted research on UAS integration since the test site’s inauguration in August, 2014. Recent research projects have investigated the use of UAS for pipeline inspection, journalism, search and rescue operations, and humanitarian aid.

The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership is headquartered at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech

“The UAS program is a perfect example of what we strive for at the institute: putting an emerging technology to work in ways that will improve our safety and quality of life,” said Roop Mahajan, the Lewis A. Hester Chair of Engineering and director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. “I am looking forward to Mark’s playing a key role in integrating the academic research on autonomous systems with the activities of MAAP.”

Blanks received a master’s degree in aviation systems from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in aerospace maintenance management from Middle Tennessee State University. He is also a licensed pilot.

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.

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