Hoeven Brings High-Tech Leader General Atomics to Grand Forks for Site Visit

Senator Making the Case for UAS Training Academy in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven hosted senior officials from high-tech leader General Atomics (GA) in Grand Forks today to make the case for siting a new unmanned aerial systems (UAS) training center in the area. The senator invited company officials to review all of the UAS assets in the region, including Grand Sky, the county’s new technology park. Also participating in the meeting was Congressman Kevin Cramer.

General Atomics is one of the world’s leading developers of high-technology systems, including the Predator and Reaper series of UAS, which along with Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawks, are widely used by the Air Force. Both companies sell variants of their aircraft overseas and expect to train international pilots in the United States.  Currently, however, there is so much demand for remotely piloted vehicle (RPA) pilots that the U.S. Air Force also is having trouble training them.

Hoeven has been pushing for the use of skilled private contractors – the people who actually make unmanned aircraft – to help the Air Force catch up by doing high quality training for them.

“General Atomics can help to solve a real challenge for the Air Force and at the same time help to create good jobs and build Grand Forks as a premier hub for UAS training, research, testing and manufacturing,” Hoeven said. “With assets like Grand Sky, the Northern Plains Test Site, UND Aerospace and the Air Force Base’s UAS mission, Grand Forks offers the physical infrastructure and knowhow that General Atomics and other companies need to thrive in this rapidly growing industry.”

Hoeven extended the invitation last April to visit Grand Forks and meet with local leaders in a discussion with Linden Blue, CEO, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. They discussed the possibility of establishing a training academy in Grand Forks. On Monday, Frank Pace, President of the company’s Aircraft Systems Group, and Bart Roper Vice President of Strategic Development for the Aircraft Systems Group, came for a daylong site visit. 

In May, Hoeven hosted a similar visit with retired Air Force General Ray Johns, representing Flight Safety International, another firm with the capability of training UAS pilots for the Air Force and international customers.

Last month, Hoeven, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, worked on two fronts to promote military access to private sector training. He introduced language into the defense appropriations bill that encourages the Air Force to partner with contractors and leverage their facilities, equipment and personnel to augment pilot training capacity and provide a near-term solution to the shortfall of qualified RPA pilots.

Separately, he introduced language in the National Defense Authorization Act that directs the Air Force to evaluate the use of private contractor facilities, equipment and trainers to increase the number of qualified pilots for RPA missions. It requires the Air Force to detail various aspects of their shortfalls in manning RPAs, the authorized numbers of personnel assigned to the mission and the identification and assessment of actions to address the shortfall.

In 2006, the North Dakota Centers of Excellence Program, initiated by then-Governor Hoeven, awarded the Center for UAS Research, Education and Training on the UND campus $2.5 million, which the center matched and leveraged to $15.8 million in federal and private-sector funding.

The FAA Reauthorization bill passed by Congress in 2012 included an amendment introduced by Hoeven that directed the agency to establish six test sites tasked with integrating UAS into the National Airspace System. Hoeven’s amendment instructed the FAA Administrator to consider factors including geographical and climatic diversity, as well as the location of ground infrastructure, in selecting the test sites.

In addition, Hoeven worked to help Grand Forks County secure an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) with the U.S. Air Force for the development of Grand Sky Business and Technology Park on the grounds of the Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB). Hoeven also brought senior Northrop Grumman officials, including Tom Vice, Northrop Grumman’s Corporate VP and President of Aerospace Systems, to Grand Forks to see firsthand the tremendous synergies that are developing between Grand Forks BRIC, UND, the UND Aerospace Foundation and Northland Aerospace Foundation.