Hoeven: North Dakota Positioned to Develop Low Altitude UAS Applications, Counter-UAS Technology

Senator Hosts Secretary Chao for Drone Focus, Arranges Meetings with UAS Test Site, Grand Sky & Private Industry Leaders

FARGO, N.D. – At the third annual Drone Focus Conference in Fargo today, Senator John Hoeven said that North Dakota is positioned to take the lead on the next big developments in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) – low altitude beyond-line-of-sight applications and UAS detection/counter UAS technology or black flag

These developments will build on key components the senator has already worked to secure, including:

  • Approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the Northern Plains UAS test site to be the first in the nation to oversee beyond-line-of-sight operations for high altitude, large unmanned aircraft, which is enabling companies like General Atomics to train Predator pilots out of Grand Forks.
  • Upgrades to Grand Forks Air Force Base’s DASR-11 digital radar system and a similar system at Hector Field in Fargo, which help operators track unmanned aircraft so they can fly safely even when beyond the sight of the UAS operator.

Hoeven said these steps lay the foundation to expand to low altitude beyond-line-of-sight applications, which will put the state in the lead to develop product delivery operations, like Amazon’s proposed package delivery. The state is also well-positioned to develop detection and counter UAS operations, or black flag technologies to protect against threats. These are all key components in the overall goal of developing concurrent airspace use, or flying both manned and unmanned aircraft safely in the National Airspace (NAS). 

Hoeven hosted U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao as a keynote speaker for this year’s conference. Hoeven brought the secretary to the state to meet directly with local UAS leaders, highlight the state’s unique UAS research, development and operations and make the case for North Dakota to take the lead in these emerging areas. To this end, Hoeven convened roundtables with Chao and leaders from the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and Grand Sky UAS Technology Park as well as regional and national private industry executives.

“We are advancing UAS operations here in North Dakota unlike anywhere else in the nation,” Hoeven said. “Now that we have secured authorization for beyond-line-of-sight flights, it is vital that federal agencies are able to keep up with the innovations of industry and our state stays on the cutting-edge of UAS applications, including low-altitude beyond-line-of-sight flights and counter UAS operations. That’s why we worked to bring Secretary Chao to the state, so she could see firsthand our unique convergence of military, government and private UAS operations. By connecting her with our UAS leaders, we can help advance the integration of this technology into our airspace and continue strengthening our leadership in this emerging industry.”

Low-Altitude Beyond-Line-of-Sight
Hoeven stressed the benefits of upcoming beyond-line-of-sight operations in the state. At the senator’s urging, the FAA recently authorized the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to oversee UAS operations beyond line of sight for the operator, the first in the nation. This approval applies to large UAS operations above 10,000 feet and supports the development, testing and evaluation of a wide range of new applications for UAS technology. Further, it lays the groundwork for testing small, commercial UAS applications at low altitudes, such as package delivery.

This effort dovetails with Xcel Energy’s recently-formed partnership with the FAA to conduct power line inspections using UAS across large portions of North Dakota, which will help the agency develop guidelines for beyond-line-of-sight UAS operations in other industries and in other parts of the country. Hoeven supported the joint research between the test site, Xcel Energy and others that helped lead to the new partnership.

UAS Detection/Counter UAS Technology
Hoeven said that with the development of more advanced UAS applications, steps must also be taken to ensure public safety and protect against threats to national security. North Dakota’s test site has the appropriate access to both the National Airspace (NAS) and Restricted Airspace in order to develop technologies to detect UAS and protect against UAS threats. This research and development would have impacts across commercial and defense applications.