Hoeven: General Atomics Flies First Flight at Northern Plains UAS Test Site

Senator Continues Working to Secure Authorization for Beyond-Line-Of-Sight Operations by Year End

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – At a ceremony with Air Force, state, local and industry officials today, Senator John Hoeven said General Atomics’ inaugural unmanned aerial systems (UAS) flight at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site is an important milestone because it is the first step to the company training hundreds of UAS pilots from around the world in North Dakota.

General Atomics, manufacturer of the Predator and Reaper unmanned aircraft, both of which are based in North Dakota, plans to train up to 60 flight crews a year from other countries that are purchasing Predators, including Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands.

The company’s first flight today required ground observers and a manned chase plane, but to train pilots on the Predator, they will need to have beyond-line-of-sight operability and the ability to fly at higher altitudes without ground observers or manned aircraft to monitor the Predator. Currently, commercial operations of UAS weighing less than 55 pounds are permitted to fly only below 400 feet during day time hours and within visual line of sight.

The FAA, however, says it will waive operational limitations on UAS flights if they demonstrate they can conduct safe operations beyond the established rule, such as flying beyond line of sight or at higher altitudes. Hoeven says the test sites were set up to do just that, to demonstrate that you can safely do more than just the basic rule and advance UAS research and development.

“We are working to get authorizations to fly unmanned aircraft beyond the line of sight of the operator, which is essential to companies like General Atomics and others that are trying to train new pilots and develop new technologies” Hoeven said. “To get that approval, I’ve spoken with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta to allow for beyond-line-of-sight operations above 10,000 feet.

“The test site’s ability to use the advanced DASR-11 digital radar system at Grand Forks Air Force Base puts our test site in a strong position to get the authorization, which will make ours the only site in the country with a beyond-line-of-sight capability. We worked hard to secure funding for the DASE-11 radar. It will be valuable not only to General Atomics but also other companies developing UAS technologies. It will also give North Dakota’s test site a competitive edge in contending for a new UAS air wing the Air Force is planning to establish somewhere in the country.”

Today’s ceremony reflects Hoeven’s ongoing efforts to establish North Dakota as the northern hub for UAS technology, research and development. The senator recently returned from California, where he met with top leaders at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, Calif. to make the case for developing NASA’s Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system and other programs at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota.

The partnership with NASA and securing approval for beyond-line-of-sight operations would help advance the integration of UAS into the national airspace, which Hoeven has actively supported. Earlier this month, Hoeven successfully included a provision in FAA Reauthorization Extension to extend the authorization for the nation’s UAS test sites, including the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, through September 2019.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Hoeven has also worked to secure funding and language supporting UAS research, development and operations at NASA, the FAA, the Department of Defense (DoD) and other federal agencies in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017.