Hoeven: We Have Laid the Groundwork for Unmanned BVLOS Flights Across North Dakota

Senator Helps Kick off 2019 Drone Focus, Outlines Opportunity to Expand UAS Super Corridor into Fargo Region & Efforts to Establish Statewide BVLOS Operations

FARGO, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today helped kick off the 2019 Drone Focus Conference in Fargo, where he outlined how North Dakota has laid the groundwork for conducting statewide unmanned aerial systems (UAS) flights that go beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator and without a chase plane. Hoeven highlighted two recent developments that will advance this goal:

  • An upcoming opportunity to expand the new UAS Super Corridor into the Fargo region, relying on an enhanced Lightweight Search and Track Acquisition Radar (LSTAR) system at Hector Field that Hoeven worked to fund and will be completed in September 2019.
    • Hoeven recently helped announce the corridor with Grand Sky and the Harris Corporation, which will enable unmanned aircraft, both large and small, to fly BVLOS of their operators and without a chase plane throughout more than 100 miles of the valley, from the northern border to 30 miles past Hillsboro.
    • The corridor comes as the result of key technologies and authorizations that Hoeven has worked to secure in recent years, including the DASR-11 radar system in Grand Forks.
  • Expanding BVLOS operations under the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Integration Pilot Program (IPP).
    • Hoeven worked to launch the IPP and secure the state’s role in the program.
    • The North Dakota Legislature recently approved $33 million to install a new network of sensors throughout the state to support BVLOS flights, upgrade infrastructure at Grand Sky and support operations at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site.

“Between the opportunity to expand the UAS Super Corridor to Fargo and the state’s investment in UAS infrastructure, we are paving the way for statewide BVLOS flights, a truly groundbreaking step in the integration of unmanned aircraft into our national airspace,” said Hoeven. “No one has a UAS ecosystem like North Dakota, and the forward-thinking approach we’ve taken to establishing this industry in our state has allowed us to stay ahead of the pack. We got moving on this priority more than a decade ago and have worked consistently to put the right pieces in place, like the advanced radar systems at our air bases, Grand Sky, the FAA’s IPP and our UAS test site. Our continued efforts will help ensure the state remains as the nation’s proving ground for UAS technology development and implementation.”

Laying the Groundwork for Statewide UAS BVLOS Flights

Hoeven worked to advance the following priorities that made the UAS Super Corridor, and the eventual statewide BVLOS operations, possible:

  • The DASR-11 radar system at the Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB) and a similar system at Hector Field in Fargo.
    • Hoeven provided funding for the radar upgrades through the Senate Appropriations Committee.
    • The DASR-11 radar supports unmanned aircraft up to 18,000 feet and out to 60 miles from the base.
    • The Fargo LSTAR system is set to be completed in September 2019. Once certified by the FAA, this enhanced radar system will provide an opportunity for Grand Sky to expand the UAS Super Corridor into the Fargo region.
  • The partnership of the Air Force, Grand Forks County and Grand Sky.
    • Grand Sky is adjacent to the air base and operates under an enhanced use lease and joint use agreement for the base’s runway, both of which Hoeven helped secure.
  • The HubNet system being developed by Harris and the University of North Dakota (UND). 
    • This aligns with UND’s role as co-lead of the FAA Center of Excellence for UAS research and development.
    • The system relies on commercially-available radar, Harris’ Xtend sensors and a series of radio relays to support smaller aircraft up to several thousand feet and out to 30 miles from Hillsboro.
  • The Northern Plains UAS Test Site’s BVLOS authorization.
    • The test site was created through legislation Hoeven authored and passed in 2012.
    • Hoeven secured the BVLOS authorization in 2018.
  • The FAA’s Integration Pilot Program.
    • Hoeven worked with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and the FAA to launch the IPP and ensure the North Dakota Department of Transportation was selected.

The UAS Super Corridor, which will operate under the test site’s BVLOS authorization, marries the DASR-11 radar system and HubNet with data feeds from other sensors on unmanned aircraft to provide a combined aircraft control and airspace surveillance system. As a result, UAS operators under the corridor will have access to aviation-grade displays that enable them to monitor the surrounding airspace while also piloting their aircraft.