Hoeven Outlines Way Forward for State's Leadership in UAS Efforts to Update Reaper & Global Hawk Aircraft Based In North Dakota

Senator Kicks Off Annual UAS Summit, Leads Panel Discussion with Air Force Research Lab Commander & FAA Administrator

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today kicked off the 14th annual Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Summit and led a virtual panel discussion with Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Stephen Dickson. Hoeven invited the two officials to the summit to highlight important opportunities for strengthening North Dakota’s leadership in unmanned technology. 

Further, Hoeven outlined the state’s unique UAS ecosystem that he has worked to build over more than a decade, as well as his continued efforts to advance this industry on a variety of fronts, including:

  • Updating the MQ-9 Reaper flown by the Air National Guard in Fargo to support new Air Force concepts for battle management and command and control.
    • A portion of these updates are being developed by General Atomics at the Grand Sky UAS Research and Development Park.
    • Hoeven recently helped pass the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included funds to purchase new MQ-9 aircraft and prevent the premature shutdown of this production line.
  • Expanding the capabilities of the RQ-4 Global Hawk flown by the Air Force out of the Grand Forks Air Force Base, enabling the aircraft to fly in all types of weather and support the widest possible set of missions with a full array of sensors.
    • Hoeven also worked to ensure the Senate’s NDAA would restrict the retirement of the Global Hawk, including the RQ-4.
  • Linking the North Dakota National Guard with the Air Force’s Agility Prime Initiative to develop small, low-cost aircraft for basic Air Force missions.

“North Dakota is the premiere location for UAS, with partnerships and expertise that reach across all levels of government, the military, private industry and our world-class universities,” said Hoeven. “We continue to invest in these operations, including improving the capabilities of the UAS missions in Grand Forks and Fargo to serve a wider range of roles in our nation’s defense. Moreover, with the developments we’ve made at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Grand Sky, Grand Forks Air Force Base and elsewhere, we will be able to conduct beyond visual line of sight flights without a chase plane across the entire state. That’s key to safely integrating this technology into our air space and realizing its benefits across sectors, like agriculture, energy and commerce.” 

Beyond-Visual-Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) Authority

In addition, Hoeven has been working with the FAA to enable a broader range of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) flights without a chase plane or other visual observers. To this end, the senator secured waivers from the FAA for the North Dakota Integration Pilot Program (IPP), Xcel Energy and General Atomics, expanding their abilities to develop and test applications for unmanned aircraft in a variety of settings.

This follows Hoeven’s previous work to secure the BVLOS authorization for the test site and establish the IPP. Further, the senator supported the joint research between the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Xcel Energy and others that helped lead to the company’s initial partnership with the FAA. 

Prior to waivers, the FAA had only provided limited permission for BVLOS activities under these authorities, which limited the ability of the test site and the state to advance the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace.