Hoeven: Grand Forks Growing into Premier Hub for UAS Technology with New Grand Sky Tenant General Atomics

Senator Announces New Training Center at UAS Summit, Recaps a Year of Accomplishments

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – At the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Summit and Expo in Grand Forks today, Senator John Hoeven celebrated a year of accomplishments for the UAS community in North Dakota and announced Grand Sky’s newest tenant, General Atomics, which has signed a 10-year lease to build a 1,600 square foot hangar and establish a new UAS training academy at the business and technology park. The senator also set out his agenda to continue advancing the region as a premiere hub of UAS research, development and training.

“This has been a year of milestones for North Dakota’s UAS community, and with General Atomics moving into Grand Sky, we’re opening a whole new training dimension to the concept,” Hoeven said. “Through the inspired work of private companies, as well as federal, state and local partners, we have successfully expanded operations at the Northern Plains UAS test site, established the Grand Sky UAS Business and Aviation Park, funded Global Hawk operations at the Grand Forks Air Force Base and the secured UND’s selection as the FAA’s UAS Center of Excellence. And now we have secured General Atomics’ new UAS training academy as tenant for Grand Sky. This is a remarkable set of achievements, but we will continue working to help our region reach its full potential.”

Through his various roles in the U.S. Senate, including as a member of Senate Appropriations Committee, Hoeven continues pursuing opportunities to support and expand the UAS community in North Dakota, including:

  • Accelerating airspace integration for UAS: In April, Hoeven and Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the Commercial UAS Modernization Act, legislation that sets interim operating guidelines for small commercial UAS while providing the FAA with the flexibility to make changes before it finalizes those rules. The legislation also positions the test sites, including Grand Forks, to help ensure small UAS operations are conducted safely under its interim operating guidelines.

Hoeven also said the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill provides an opportunity to expand the range of operations conducted at the test sites. Earlier this year, the FAA authorized expanded airspace and night flight testing and approved a broad area certification of authorization (COA) for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, essentially a license to fly several UAS platforms in an area spanning roughly two-thirds of the state. Hoeven had pressed FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on multiple occasions to advance the COA process. With these approvals in place, Grand Forks now leads the nation’s test sites in UAS testing and concurrent airspace use.

  • Advancing critical UAS-related technology: Hoeven said the UAS Center of Excellence led by the University of North Dakota (UND), which was selected in May, will serve as an incubator for many UAS ideas and technologies and allow for seamless transition from the research lab to operational testing. The center was established through $5 million approved in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 funding bill, and Hoeven will continue working through the Senate Appropriations Committee to secure future funds. The FY2016 Transportation Appropriations bill, approved by committee this June, includes an additional $5 million for the center.

Further, the senator has held meetings with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to discuss the agency’s research into UAS technology allowing for integration into the national airspace and the development of an unmanned traffic management system. He reported that NASA has begun to include the UAS test sites in its research, and he will continue to support this collaboration moving forward.

Hoeven also highlighted private innovations occurring in North Dakota that dovetail with NASA’s research, including the Extended Range and Data (XRD) technology developed by Botlink, LLC, in Fargo. The XRD hardware, coupled with Botlink’s software application, allows for real-time data processing, imaging, fully-automated drone control, ADS-B traffic advisories, airspace alerts and other information at extended ranges, including beyond line-of-sight.

  • Forging partnerships between civilian and military UAS: Senator Hoeven is pressing the Air Force to allow private companies to provide training for its Predator and Reaper pilots, helping the service meet burgeoning demand for these capabilities. Hoeven introduced language in the FY2016 Defense Appropriations bill and an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would promote a role for the private sector in UAS pilot training and hosted FlightSafety International and General Atomics in bids to recruit these companies to set up training operations at Grand Sky.

Hoeven said these efforts will help address the shortage of UAS pilots in the Air Force and open opportunities to train foreign pilots from countries also investing in these systems, which will further reinforce Grand Forks’ status as a UAS hub.