Hoeven: General Atomics Training Academy Helps Us Build Grand Forks' Status as Premiere Hub of UAS Industry

Senator Made Strong Case to General Atomics CEO to Bring International UAS Training Firm to Grand Sky

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today joined executives from General Atomics and state and local officials to break ground on the company’s $2.5 million training facility for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) pilots at Grand Sky, Grand Forks County’s new business and technology park. General Atomics is one of the world’s leading developers of high-technology systems, including the Predator and Reaper series of UAS.

Today’s groundbreaking follows multiple meetings Hoeven held, in both Washington and North Dakota, with General Atomics leadership, including Linden Blue, CEO of General Atomics, Frank Pace, President of General Atomics Aircraft Systems Group, and Bart Roper, General Atomics Vice President of Strategic Development, Aircraft Systems Group in a bid to locate the training center in the Grand Forks area. In September, Hoeven announced the 10-year lease between Grand Sky and General Atomics.

“General Atomics’ new training facility is another exciting addition to the UAS industry in North Dakota,” Hoeven said. “We’ve worked to make the Grand Forks a leader in UAS research and development, and now, with General Atomics and Northrop Grumman on site, the Grand Sky Technology and Business Park hosts two of the world’s premiere UAS companies. The region’s expertise and reputation will continue to grow, which will lead to even greater opportunities for our state in this thriving industry in the future. I think we’ve reached a critical mass today.”

The 19,400 square foot training academy, which is expected to be complete by next August, will operate year-round with the capacity to educate over 100 students per year. The company is currently in negotiations to offer training to pilots from six nations, with two countries scheduled to start training in 2016. In its first year of operation, the academy will have about 25 staff, which is expected to triple to accommodate training for additional countries.

Hoeven said the new training academy at Grand Sky dovetails with his efforts to enable the Air Force to use private contractors, such as General Atomics, to train U.S. Air Force pilots to fly UAS. The senator introduced language in the FY2016 Defense Appropriations bill and an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would promote such a role for the private sector. The Air Force currently faces a severe shortage of qualified UAS pilots, due in part to significant increases in demand for UAS operations overseas.

Senator Hoeven has been instrumental in developing Grand Sky and the Grand Forks region as a hub for UAS technology and training. The senator led the effort to help Grand Forks County secure an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) with the U.S. Air Force, which required an anchor tenant. In 2012, Hoeven brought senior Northrop Grumman officials, including Tom Vice, Northrop Grumman’s Corporate VP and President of Aerospace Systems, to Grand Forks. Northrop Grumman, which manufactures the RQ-4 Global Hawk, later committed to be the park’s first tenant and broke ground on a new facility at the park in October 2015.

In addition, Hoeven has focused on the challenge of safely integrating UAS into the national airspace (NAS) alongside manned aircraft. The senator introduced language to the 2012 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill directing the FAA to establish six national test sites designed to focus on UAS integration. Hoeven then led the effort to establish the North Dakota Airspace Integration Team with support from Governor Dalrymple and other members of the Congressional delegation. The FAA subsequently selected North Dakota as one of the six tests sites in December 2013 and the first go operational in 2014.