Hoeven Hosts USAF Secretary Heather Wilson at Grand Sky for First UAS Beyond-Visual-Line-Of-Sight Flight

Senator Secured COAs & Radar Upgrades for Milestone Flight, Advancing 5-Year Extension for UAS Test Sites in FAA Reauthorization

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today hosted U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson at Grand Sky, North Dakota’s premiere unmanned aerial systems (UAS) research and development park, for the first flight of an unmanned aircraft that goes both beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator and without a chase plane. The flight is being conducted by General Atomics and comes on the heels of an announcement made by Hoeven and General Atomics CEO Linden Blue last week that the company is planning to more than triple its presence at Grand Sky.

This recently-authorized capability will help to advance the development, testing and evaluation of UAS applications while also supporting the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace (NAS). Today’s achievement is possible due to two key items Hoeven secured in recent years, including:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) recently updated certificate of authorization (COA) for the test site, which Hoeven worked to secure in addition to the site’s initial BVLOS authorization. The new COA allows large UAS to fly 30 nautical miles around the Grand Sky technology park without a chase plane.
  • Upgrades to the DASR-11 radar system at the Grand Forks Air Force Base and a similar system in Fargo, which enables operators to track unmanned aircraft so they can fly safely even when beyond their visual line of sight. Hoeven funded the upgrades through his role on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Today’s flight is a historic milestone for our state, the nation and our UAS industry as a whole,” Hoeven said. “Further, it is fitting that General Atomics, which just announced a tremendous expansion at Grand Sky, would be the company to conduct this operation and mark this important day. The capability to fly unmanned aircraft beyond the visual line of sight of the operator and without a chase plane pushes North Dakota ahead of the pack in the UAS sector. We’ve worked on attaining this goal for more than a decade, through creating the test sites, establishing Grand Sky and recruiting its tenants as well as building up our UAS operations through the National Guard, Air Force and CBP. And now, we’ve opened the door to a whole new set of opportunities, across the commercial, military and federal arenas.”

Today’s event dovetails with Hoeven’s ongoing work to advance North Dakota’s leadership in this dynamic and growing sector. Earlier this month, Hoeven hosted Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), at Grand Sky to see the state’s UAS industry firsthand and to advocate for the administration to utilize UAS facilities and expertise in the region to improve national security. To this end, the senator is working to promote a wide range of priorities, including:

  • Helping secure a provision in the FAA reauthorization bill, which the Senate is expected to consider in the coming weeks, to extend the authorization for the UAS test sites through 2024.
  • Advancing the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the NAS. Last month, Hoeven joined Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to announce that North Dakota was selected as one of ten sites to participate in the FAA’s UAS integration pilot program.
    • Hoeven is working to include an amendment in the FAA reauthorization bill to require a report on the spectrum UAS should use to fly safely in the NAS.
  • Developing counter-UAS technologies. The senator recently helped introduce bipartisan legislation to protect important facilities from security risks posed by unmanned aircraft. The bill also directs the DHS to evaluate emerging UAS threats and to research and test technology to address these risks.
    • Hoeven has also included $13 million for counter-UAS technologies in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 funding legislation, while also directing DHS to report on its funding needs in this area for the next five years.
  • Allowing both the National Guard and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to use private contractors, like those at Grand Sky, to train their UAS pilots. Hoeven’s National Guard measure was signed into law last year, and his CBP provision is included in FY2019 funding legislation.
  • Maintaining the Global Hawk UAS mission at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, the senator has secured $386 million for the Global Hawk program in the FY2019 funding bill.
    • This includes $100 million to support the Global Hawk Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), allowing the purchase of an additional Global Hawk aircraft to carry the BACN payload in Grand Forks.