Hoeven: General Atomics, Grand Sky Development Sign Lease Agreement for UAS Training Academy

Senator Brought High-Tech Leader to Grand Forks for Site Visit, Continues to Push U.S. Air Force UAS Pilot Training in Grand Forks

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven announced that aviation technology leader General Atomics (GA) and Grand Sky Development Co. have signed a 10-year lease agreement committing GA to establish an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) training academy at Grand Sky, the county’s new business and technology park. The agreement also includes an option for another 10 years. The lease is still pending approval by Grand Forks County and the Air Force.

General Atomics, manufacturer of the Predator and Reaper UAS, plans to break ground this fall on a new 16,000 square foot hangar on 5.5 acres of land in Grand Sky to house three aircraft. The company will initially train General Atomics pilots. Eventually, however, the company plans to train pilots from other countries that are purchasing predators, including Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands. The company intends to train up to 60 flight crews a year using U.S. government-approved curricula.

Hoeven made the announcement this morning in the course of his remarks at the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Summit and Expo in Grand Forks.                                                                                        

“This is just the kind of leading aerospace company that we want at Grand Sky, doing research, development and training,” Hoeven said. “General Atomics and Grand Sky can help to meet the demand for UAS pilot training, including training for U.S. Air Force pilots. At the same time, they will create good jobs and help build Grand Forks as a premier hub for UAS training, research, testing and manufacturing.”

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. GA and Northrop Grumman sell variants of their aircraft in the U.S. and overseas and expect to train international pilots in the United States.

Hoeven has been working with General Atomics and FlightSafety International, a Northrop Grumman training partner, to locate training centers in the area to help train pilots to operate remotely piloted aircraft. The senator met on multiple occasions with Linden Blue, CEO, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., most recently this week in Washington. He also hosted Blue, Frank Pace, President of the company’s Aircraft Systems Group, and Bart Roper Vice President of Strategic Development for the Aircraft Systems Group for a site visit in Grand Forks last July to review all of the UAS assets in the region.

Hoeven has been a staunch supporter of UAS technology and training since his governorship. In the Senate, he is pushing for the use of skilled private contractors like General Atomics and Northrop Grumman – the people who actually make unmanned aircraft – to help the Air Force catch up by doing high quality training for them. Currently, the Air Force is attempting to train pilots within the service, but there is so much demand that they are still facing a shortage of pilots.

To advance the effort, in June, Hoeven 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 UAS pilots.

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. Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB) was selected as one of the test sites in December 2013.

Hoeven also 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 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.