Hoeven: Government, Military & Private UAS Operations are Converging in North Dakota, Will Open Unique Opportunities for the State

Senator Continues Efforts to Secure Beyond-Line-of-Sight Operations for Test Site, Grand Sky; Approval Will Advance the Next Level of Military & Commercial UAS Operations in State, Help Establish Grand Forks Region as UAS Hub

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – At the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Summit and Expo in Grand Forks today, Senator John Hoeven drove home the point that advancements in military, government and private UAS operations in North Dakota are converging to open unique opportunities for the industry in the state. Hoeven highlighted how, due to the close proximity of the Grand Forks Air Force Base, Grand Sky Technology Park and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, developments in each of these areas can be leveraged to move the state’s UAS operations forward as a whole and further the integration of UAS into the national airspace.

“What we’re seeing in Grand Forks are the synergies possible when you bring the right elements together,” Hoeven said. “We have tremendous opportunities coming down the pipeline with the military, government and private sector all working side by side to research and develop UAS technology. To help them, we are working to secure approval for beyond-line-of-sight operations, fund upgrades to the DASR-11 radar system and forge future partnerships with NASA. Each of these steps forward, combined with all of our past efforts, will enable new advancements and further establish North Dakota as a leader in UAS.”

Hoeven has been working on multiple fronts to continue the significant success the region’s UAS industry has experienced in recent years and further establish Grand Forks and the Red River Valley as the premier northern hub for UAS research, development and training. The senator’s efforts include:


Hoeven has been working to secure approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for beyond-line-of-sight operations in the state. The senator’s goal is to secure approval by the end of 2016, which would make the North Dakota UAS test site the first in the nation to have such operability. This would mean:

• Commercial UAS testing could be conducted without ground observers and a manned chase airplane.
• Higher quality research and greater opportunities for the state, including training UAS pilots and developing new applications for the technology.
• The state would have a competitive edge as it contends for the new UAS mission the Air Force plans to establish.

Hoeven said that North Dakota is well-positioned to receive the FAA’s approval, due in part to the DASR-11 digital radar system at Grand Forks Air Force Base, which received $1.5 million for technical upgrades earlier this year, as did Hector Field in Fargo. The senator stressed that these upgrades will not only support the Global Hawk and Predator missions at the air base, but can also be leveraged by the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and companies at Grand Sky Technology Park to expand their operations. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Hoeven worked to secure funding for the upgrades, which are set to be completed in the first quarter of next year.


Hoeven recently met with officials from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Ames Research Center in California, including Dr. John Cavolowsky, NASA’s lead researcher in developing its Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system. Dr. Cavolowsky served as the keynote speaker at this year’s Drone Focus conference in Fargo, which he attended at Hoeven’s invitation, and spoke also at today’s UAS Summit in Grand Forks.

While in California, Hoeven made the case for partnering NASA with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and the Grand Sky Technology Park to develop the agency’s UTM system and other programs. This partnership would build on work already undertaken by the test site, which helped NASA evaluate its traffic management platform in April by conducting close-proximity UAS flight tests.


Hoeven has been working to advance the partnership with NASA and secure approval for beyond-line-of-sight operations to help further the integration of UAS into the national airspace. To this end, Hoeven successfully included a provision in the FAA Reauthorization Extension last month to extend the authorization for the nation’s UAS test sites, including the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, through September 2019.

Hoeven has also worked to secure funding and language in annual appropriations bills that support UAS research, development and operations at NASA, the FAA, the Department of Defense (DoD) and other federal agencies in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017.


At the same time, Hoeven has continued his calculated effort to attract high-tech companies to North Dakota. The senator hosted Raytheon Company executives for a tour of Grand Sky Technology Park in a bid to recruit the company to the state. Hoeven highlighted the infrastructure and expertise in North Dakota’s UAS sector and the opportunities for Raytheon to develop its radar and sensing technologies, as well as other high-tech electronic products, in the vibrant UAS technology environment offered by the region.

Hoeven made a similar bid just yesterday at a meeting and flight demonstration with Elbit Systems, an Israel-based company that manufactures the Hermes 450 UAS, which is being flown from Hillsboro and Mayville as part of two research grants provided by the state. The senator previously recruited Grand Sky’s anchor tenant, Northrop Grumman, as well as General Atomics and FlightSafety International.