Hoeven Marks Grand Opening of General Atomics Flight Test and Training Center

Senator Promoting Grand Sky as Solution to Air Force’s Shortage of Predator, Reaper Pilots

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today marked the grand opening of General Atomics’ new Flight Test and Training Center at the Grand Sky Technology Park. Hoeven held multiple meetings, both in Washington and North Dakota, with General Atomics leadership in a bid to locate the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) training center in the Grand Forks area. Hoeven announced the 10-year lease between Grand Sky and General Atomics and helped break ground on the facility in 2015.

“As our UAS industry continues developing new applications for this technology in both the public and private sectors, it is vital that we have qualified operators for these aircraft,” Hoeven said. “General Atomics’ new training hangar is an international asset. UAS pilots from around the world will train right here in Grand Forks, further cementing our state’s position as a leader in UAS research, training and operations.”

The 24,000 square foot training academy and hangar represents nearly $30 million of investment by General Atomics. The company began operating out of a temporary facility in 2016, having trained 55 crew to date, and has grown more than 40 full-time staff at its Grand Sky location. Its operations include a facility near the University of North Dakota, which houses a Predator Mission Aircraft Training System and serves for the academic and simulator segments of training. 

The new facility dovetails with Hoeven’s efforts to use the capabilities and facilities at Grand Sky to alleviate the Air Force’s shortage of Predator and Reaper pilots. The senator has been working to pass legislation that would allow the Air Force to use private contractors in this role and has met with several Air Force officials to advance this initiative.

Senator Hoeven has been instrumental in developing Grand Sky and the Grand Forks region as a hub for UAS research, training and operations. Most recently, the senator helped secure the following priorities for the region:

  • Authorization for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to oversee UAS operations that go beyond the line of sight of the operator.
  • Upgrades for the DASR-11 digital radar systems at the Grand Forks Air Force Base and a similar system at Hector Field in Fargo. 

Hoeven is working to build on these key components, which position North Dakota to take the lead on the next big developments in UAS – low altitude beyond-line-of-sight applications and UAS detection/counter UAS technology. Low altitude applications will put the state in the lead to develop product delivery operations, like Amazon’s proposed package delivery, while UAS-detection and counter-UAS technologies are vital to the safely integrating UAS into the National Airspace (NAS) and protecting the country against UAS threats to national security.