KENEDY COUNTY, Texas -

Federally mandated test flights of an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone have begun over a remote South Texas ranch and the nearby Texas coastline.

Researchers with Texas A&M Corpus Christi are collecting data in advance of new regulations for UAV flights sharing the national airspace with other aircraft over populated areas.

"They want to get this off the ground literally as soon as possible," said David Bridges, director of the unmanned aerial systems program at the A&M campus.

A spokesman said the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to issue its regulations by 2015.

The South Texas site is among six nationwide designated last December.

Bridges said before UAVs can be used commercially, safety is a concern.

"The main issue with unmanned aircraft, why they're not flying everywhere now, is that they do not have the ability to sense and avoid other aircraft," Bridges said.

Bridges, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, said someday it may involve installing transponders in UAVs and other planes, to alert others to their locations.

Bridges said business interests already are eager to use the smaller version of drones typically used by the military or for border protection.

"There was a guy who was flying a UAV in the Grand Canyon, taking and selling pictures, but the FAA shut him down because that's commercial and that's not allowed yet," Bridges said.

Click on this link for a FAA press release and fact sheet on Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research and Test Sites: www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=15576

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