Hoeven: FAA Approves Authorization For Beyond-Line-Of-Sight Operability For Large UAS At Northern Plains Test Site

Test Site Now Has Authorization to Fly Large UAS without Chase Plane, Enabling General Atomics to Make First Beyond Visual Line of Sight Flight on August 20

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved a two-year certificate of authorization (COA) for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to fly large unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) beyond the visual line of sight of the operator. The COA allows large UAS to fly 30 nautical miles around the Grand Sky technology park without a chase plane and will help to advance development, testing and evaluation of new UAS applications. On Friday, acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell called Hoeven to notify him that he was approving the COA, which will enable General Atomics to fly the first beyond visual line of sight flight at Grand Sky on August 20. U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson will be coming to North Dakota to witness the flight.  

“This authorization continues to build North Dakota’s competitive edge when it comes to UAS development, testing and research and is an important factor in General Atomic’s decision to more than triple its presence at Grand Sky,” said Hoeven. “In 2016, the Northern Plains Test Site became the first place in the nation with authorization to fly large UAS beyond line of sight by relying on a ground based system to ensure flight safety. The test site has now demonstrated that this system is safe enough to eliminate the need for a manned plane to observe the UAS flight. We now look forward to August 20, when the test site will conduct the nation’s first beyond line of sight flight of a large civilian UAS aircraft without a chase plane. This is another big step for North Dakota and our UAS industry.” 

Hoeven worked to secure approval for the initial authorization to fly UAS beyond-line-of-sight and has continued to work to advance operations at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. Just last week, Hoeven hosted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in North Dakota to see the state’s UAS industry firsthand and to advocate for the use of North Dakota’s UAS expertise in improving national security. 

North Dakota has successfully supported beyond line of sight operations due to the combination of an FAA test site, the Grand Sky Technology Park and Grand Forks Air Force Base, which hosts the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system and is home to a DASR-11 digital radar system, which helps operators track unmanned aircraft so they can fly safely even when beyond the sight of the UAS operator. Additionally, Hoeven secured funding for upgrades to this system and a similar system at Hector Field in Fargo. Hoeven helped secure a provision in the FAA reauthorization bill, which the Senate is expected to consider in the coming weeks, to extend the authorization for the UAS test sites through 2024.