The American military drone that Iran claims it captured is the kind of unmanned spy aircraft manufactured in the Columbia River Gorge.
Officials in Tehran say they’ve captured a ScanEagle drone, a five-foot long craft built by Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary in Bingen, Wash., across the Columbia from Hood River, Oregon.
U.S. military leaders say none of their drones is missing.
The ScanEagle drone is unarmed, flies at 20,000 feet and can track subjects for up to 24 hours.
It was invented in 2002 by Insitu’s founders, Hood River-based aeronautic engineers Tad McGeer and Andy von Flotow, who first designed unmanned aircraft to track schools of tuna for fishing companies.
Insitu began producing ScanEagles for the Defense Department in 2004, and Boeing bought the company in 2008.
WW examined the company—and the boon of military drones to the Gorge economy—in a cover story written by James Pitkin in 2010, “…It Came From the Gorge.”
The story noted that one of the inventors had regrets about selling ScanEagles to the military:
The company McGeer founded— Insitu Inc.—is rapidly eclipsing tourism as a source of jobs in the Gorge. But it’s also drawing fire from peace activists for war profiteering and what they see as a disturbing trend toward remote-controlled, robotic killing.
At odds with the military direction his company was taking, McGeer left Insitu in 2005. Three years later, when Boeing bought the company for $400 million, McGeer made millions—exactly how much he won’t say.
“I made a Faustian bargain,” says McGeer, a lanky 52-year-old Canadian who lives with his wife and daughter in Hood River. “And when you make a Faustian bargain, you can’t complain when the devil shows up at the door.”
Many of his neighbors in the Gorge have no such qualms.
The residents of Hood River and surrounding towns on both banks of the Gorge have built an industry that, according to public statements made by Insitu executives, now generates more than $200 million a year amid this recession. The drones they’ve built have logged hundreds of thousands of flight hours over Iraq and Afghanistan, above disaster zones like earthquake-ravaged Haiti, or patrolling pirate-infested seas off the coast of Somalia.