Mark Blanks has been named the director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) and Virginia Tech’s test site for unmanned aircraft systems.

Blanks, currently the partnership associate director for Virginia, assumed the director role July 1. He will build on the organization’s track record of success in combining innovative unmanned aircraft systems research with industry outreach to promote the safe, evidence-based integration of these aircraft into the nation’s skies.

Blanks succeeds Rose Mooney, who had served as the executive director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership since April 2014.

Mooney will remain with MAAP as a senior advisor as she resumes her independent consulting practice.

“In less than three years, we have established MAAP as a leader in unmanned aircraft systems,” Mooney said. “I’m committed to helping to identify strategic areas where we can direct our focus moving forward. There are huge opportunities in this field, and MAAP has already had a significant impact. We can do even more.” 

Mooney’s experience in the unmanned aircraft systems industry has helped MAAP facilitate both basic research and industry collaboration, promoting economic development in the commonwealth and providing safety data that has helped guide Federal Aviation Administration rulemaking. 

“This is an exciting time in the unmanned aircraft systems industry,” Blanks said. “At MAAP, we have the unique advantage of Virginia Tech’s world-class research in aviation and autonomous systems along with ready access to great facilities and close proximity to federal decision makers. We are already leveraging those strengths to explore new applications and capabilities for unmanned aircraft, and I am looking forward to pushing the envelope even further in the years ahead.”

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

Before coming to Virginia Tech, he served as the program manager for unmanned aircraft systems at the Applied Aviation Research Center at Kansas State University, where he was responsible for the unmanned aircraft systems research and development program.

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

Some of the university’s groundbreaking missions through MAAP include the first research flights investigating medical supply delivery to remote locations and work with NASA to research a traffic management system for unmanned aircraft.

“MAAP is well-positioned to advance the exceptional work that our faculty and students are doing in this growing research area,” said Stefan Duma, the Harry C. Wyatt Professor of Engineering and the director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, where MAAP is headquartered. “This is an industry that is poised to have a major impact on the economy and our quality of life, and MAAP is at the leading edge of the research to deploy this technology safely and with the maximum possible benefit to society.”

The Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership was chosen by the Federal Aviation Administration in December 2013 to be one of only six national test sites for unmanned aircraft systems.

Pioneering work across disciplines, from agriculture to journalism to emergency management, has positioned the university as a leader in an industry expected to be worth $13.6 billion by 2020, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

Current research at Virginia Tech’s test site includes flight beyond visual line of sight, flight operations over people, unmanned aircraft system airworthiness certification, air traffic management, remote sensing and payload development support, and airspace integration. 

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