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Boeing branch lands federal drone contract

Insitu Inc. an economic boost for small riverside community

Jim McClanahan assembles an unmanned surveillance aircraft at the Insitu production facility in Bingen, Wash., on April 23. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Jim McClanahan assembles an unmanned surveillance aircraft at the Insitu production facility in Bingen, Wash., on April 23. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Shannon Dininny Associated Press

YAKIMA – A Boeing Co. subsidiary located in the small Columbia River town of Bingen has received a government contract valued at as much as $250 million.

That’s dramatically more than the $148 million in revenue generated last year by Insitu Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing that designs, develops and manufactures unmanned aircraft systems.

The contract also could mean big benefits for the town, population 680, where Insitu is located. The company employs more than 500 people, largely in Klickitat and Skamania counties in south-central Washington, and operates from more than a dozen buildings.

Bingen has one main street with a handful of businesses and scattered houses across the river from Hood River, Ore., a windsurfing capital with a bustling economy.

Insitu is “a major part of our economy,” Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel said in a telephone interview. “It’s potentially a huge impact.”

Under the five-year agreement announced Friday, Boeing and Insitu will operate and maintain drones for U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The particular drone, the ScanEagle, can fly above 16,000 feet and loiter nearly invisibly and inaudibly for more than 24 hours.

The drones carry cameras that allow operators on the ground to track both stationary and moving targets. They already have been used since 2004 to support the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as aboard ships.

The contract award is a result of a product that gives war fighters what they need in the field, Insitu President and CEO Steve Sliwa said in a statement.

“We will also take the opportunity provided by this contract to deliver new, advanced capabilities from our existing development and production facilities here at Insitu,” he added.

Insitu was founded as an entrepreneurial start- up in 1994. Boeing has partnered with the company since 2002 on the ScanEagle program, which has more than 100,000 operational flight hours with the U.S. Department of Defense and other international customers.

Boeing acquired Insitu last year. The Yakima Herald-Republic has reported Insitu’s revenue last year was $148 million.

Last month, Insitu received a $30 million contract from the Canadian government for military support services in Afghanistan.

Contracts like that could mean big business not just for Insitu, but community businesses and local companies and vendors that do work for the company in Washington and Oregon.

At Prigel’s machine shop in Hood River, Ore., Insitu work accounts for 20 percent of his business.

But big business also raises big concerns. Insitu largely leases business space and has been looking to build a permanent campus-type home, he said.

“One of our concerns is that they will outgrow our small town,” he said. “It would be a huge loss if they left.”

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