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From Cape Canaveral, a 66-foot wingspan, remotely piloted U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircraft takes off in search of drug traffickers, illegal immigrants and terrorists from heights of up to 50,000 feet.
On Lake Okeechobee, researchers hurl a custom-built, 9-foot wingspan plane from an airboat to launch an automated, low-altitude flight to monitor invasive plants.
From large to small, the number of such unmanned aircraft systems — popularly called "drones" — is expected to surge as the federal government works to open civilian airspace to them by 2015. Florida officials hope to position the state as a hub for this fast-growing industry by becoming a test site.