GRAND FORKS, ND – Senator John Hoeven and officials from the Grand Forks Air Force Base and the University of North Dakota (UND) today gathered at the air base to sign an historic agreement that will help to advance efforts to make Grand Forks a world-class hub for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) technology, commerce and training.

“Today’s ceremony marks another big step forward and the beginning of a very exciting new era for UND Aerospace, the Grand Forks Air Force Base and the entire region,” Hoeven said. “Through our Centers of Excellence Program, we worked to make the UAS Center a global leader for UAS training and technology, and today it takes flight to an even higher level of excellence. We look forward to UND being recognized as the premier UAS aircraft training program in the world.”

The partnership between UND’s Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systemsand the Grand Forks Air Force Base will convert a large building at the base into a state-of-the-art center for research, education and training.

The center is made possible in large part by funding from a $5 million state Centers of Excellence Enhancement grant, approved under the state Centers of Excellence program, which was established by Hoeven during his term as governor. The grant will fund remodeling and staffing of the facility and help purchase a Predator Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS), a state-of-the-art unmanned aircraft simulator that will be the cornerstone of the center. UND will be the first civilian operator of the PMATS.

The simulator allows pilots to train on two types of unmanned aircraft: the MQ1 Predator, which is flown by the North Dakota Air National Guard, and the MQ Reaper, which is used by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. UND will provide unmanned aircraft training for undergrad students as well as for a number of federal agencies and NATO partners. The new facility, which is expected to be completed by mid-2011, partners the state, the Grand Forks Air Force Base, UND and L-3 communications, the company that manufactures and sells the PMATS.

To advance the project at the federal level, Hoeven is working in the Senate with Senator’s Kent Conrad and John Ensign of Nevada to pass legislation that will help open the skies to unmanned aerial aircraft for both military and commercial uses in the United States.

They are sponsoring an amendment to the Federal Aviation Authority reauthorization bill that calls on the agency to move forward in coordination with the military to develop concurrent or layered airspace for UAS flight in the National Airspace System (NAS). The amendment also calls on the FAA to develop national certification and flight standards for UAS, including the Department of Defense’s responsibility to assure safety for civilian aircraft, while still achieving the training needed for military aircraft to preserve our national security.

In addition, it establishes four UAS test sites and training centers across the nation. Senator Hoeven and the Grand Forks aerospace community are working to establish one of the regional sites in Grand Forks. Hoeven pressed for the amendment on the Senate floor last week, and hopes to pass it in the FAA Reauthorization bill that is before the Senate.

“We’re already flying UAVs in airspace all over the world,” Hoeven said in his floor speech. “Now we need to open the skies for them at home to make our nation more secure, our communities safer, and our economy more dynamic, creating jobs and opportunities in our country.”