Hoeven, Berg Host Senator John McCain at the University of North Dakota

McCain will tour University of North Dakota’s Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) simulator training facility, flight and maintenance operations

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven and Congressman Rick Berg today hosted Arizona Senator John McCain for a tour of the University of North Dakota’s Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) simulator training facility, flight and maintenance operations and UAS display adjacent to the Grand Forks Airport. McCain is Ranking Member on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The university and Grand Forks Air Force Base are working with the state’s congressional delegation to make Grand Forks one of six federal pilot test sites to be established across the country for integrating UAS in the National Airspace.

The new pilot sites are the result of an amendment Hoeven and Senator Kent Conrad introduced to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill passed by Congress earlier this year. Congressman Berg introduced and subsequently worked to pass the amendment in the House.

The amendment directs the agency to work with the military to integrate UAS into the National Airspace (NAS) and directs the FAA Administrator to develop the six pilot test sites as part of a program for safely flying manned and unmanned aircraft concurrently in the NAS. Further, the legislation requires the FAA to consider geographical and climatic diversity, as well as the location of ground infrastructure, in naming the test sites, ensuring that Grand Forks is competitive.

“We have brought Senator McCain here today to show him the tremendous talent and technical capabilities at the school’s UAS program,” Hoeven said. “In partnership with Grand Forks Air Force Base, the university and UAS-related businesses, Grand Forks has created the region’s premier hub for UAS training, testing and associated businesses and is a perfect location for one of the sites.”

“UAS have been a force multiplier for the armed services abroad and for border enforcement here at home,” said McCain. “The University of North Dakota facility has the potential to fulfill a critical role in the training and educating of future UAS operators.  The need for trained operators is a key component for increasing our UAS presence on the southern border and hopefully, in the near future, with the help of this facility, we’ll fulfill this need for our border patrol and armed services.”

“Grand Forks is in a position to be the epicenter for new unmanned aerial systems, and I am pleased that Senator McCain has gotten to see this firsthand,” stated Berg.  “The Grand Forks Air Force Base is a critical part of the local Grand Forks economy, and it’s important that we keep North Dakota’s Air Force bases viable for many years to come through new missions and innovative new programs, including UAS.”

“We are grateful to Senator McCain for his great interest in our program, as well as to our Congressional Delegation for their commitment to helping Grand Forks achieve designation as a national pilot test site,” said UND President Robert Kelley. “The UND John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences is internationally recognized for the quality and innovation of its programs, and it is good to see the Odegard School get this kind of recognition, as well as recognition for the other parts of campus, such as the College of Engineering and Sciences and their important work in sense and avoid technology.”

“We are proud of the UAS programs we have in place, and we appreciate the many collaborations we have with other academic units on campus, private and public sector partners, and with other institutions in the region as well as our State and Federal partners.  We have developed a tremendous capability in UAS training, education, and research programs to go along with our well established academic and commercial flight programs. It is important for us to have people, especially pilots like Senator McCain and Congressman Berg, to visit. It is too hard to imagine how spectacular it is unless you see it in person," said Bruce Smith, dean of the UND John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Also on hand for the tour were UND President Robert Kelley; UAS Director Al Palmer;  VP for Research and Economic Development Phyllis Johnson; VP for University and Public Affairs Susan Walton; Dean of John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences Bruce Smith; Associate Dean for Academics Paul Lindseth.