Hoeven, Cramer: General Atomics, County Arrive at Tentative Agreement on UAS Training Academy at Grand Sky

Senator, Congressman Brought High-Tech Leader to Grand Forks for Site Visit

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven and Congressman Kevin Cramer today announced that aviation technology leader General Atomics and Grand Forks have arrived at a tentative agreement to establish an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) training academy at Grand Sky, the county’s new business and technology park.

The senator and congressman have been working with the company to site a training center in the area to help train Air Force personnel to operate remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Today they hosted General Atomics officials in Grand Forks to review all of the UAS assets in the region. Announcement of the tentative agreement followed the visit.

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 RPA pilots that the U.S. Air Force 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.

“Today was a big step forward,” Hoeven said. “By working together, General Atomics and Grand Forks 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.”

“I am pleased General Atomics tentatively agreed to locate a UAS training facility at Grand Sky.  This decision is testament to the hard work and dedication of local officials to attract new high tech opportunities to the area. Grand Forks is fast becoming the epicenter for UAS development and training in our nation,” said Cramer.           

In order to address the critical shortfall of UAS pilots, the House passed language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), directing the Secretary of the Air Force to: assess the viability of using non-rated, civilian, contractor, or enlisted pilots to execute RPA missions.  Further, the House recommended $145.1 million, an increase of $20.0 million, in Flight Training, Operation and Maintenance for the U.S. Air Force to increase Undergraduate Remotely Piloted Aircraft Training capacity.

Hoeven extended the invitation to visit Grand Forks and meet with local leaders in a conversation he had in April 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.