General Atomics UAS pilot training in ND could begin in April

By Patrick C. Miller | February 18, 2016

General Atomics expects to begin training Predator pilots for its overseas customers at the Grand Sky UAS aviation and business park near Grand Forks, North Dakota, in April.

“One of our tenants—General Atomics—is going to commence flight training they believe in the April timeframe,” said Tom Sowyer  president of Grand Sky Development Co. “That means foreign countries—foreign militaries—are going to be sending their pilots to Grand Forks, North Dakota, to learn how to fly Predators.”

Giving a progress report on developments at Grand Sky, Swoyer said plans were moving ahead to construct a temporary hanger that would enable General Atomics to begin flight training operations this spring. Swoyer spoke during the monthly meeting of the Prairie Buzz UAS group at the University of North Dakota Center for Innovation on Wednesday.

Swoyer said General Atomics just received permission from the U.S. Air Force to begin construction on a temporary hanger at Grand Sky that will enable the company to begin flight operations and flight training in anticipation of building a permanent hanger.

“One of their challenges is that maybe the permanent facility they (General Atomics) designed is possibly too small,” he said. “They may need more capability than what they planned for.”

Swoyer noted that one year ago, the U.S. Air Force signed an enhanced use lease agreement with Grand Forks County to spur the commercial development of UAS technology in the region.

“2015 was a lot of work in environmental permitting, the different infrastructure studies that had to be done, security plans, fire procedures—how we’re going to get fire trucks to Grand Sky—all of the things that go into a modern business park,” he said.

These plans had to be worked through with Grand Forks County government and the U.S. government through the Air Force, Swoyer noted. Leases were signed with the park’s first tenants—Northrop Grumman and General Atomics. Swoyer said he expect Grand Sky to sign leases for three additional tenants this year. He also said there’s interest in building general office space for companies to rent.

“We support government, we support military and we support the private sector as well,” Swoyer said. "We’ve had zero military flights at Grand Sky so far and more than 40 commercial flights.”

Swoyer covered the phased master plan for Grand Sky. The first phase, which is nearly complete, has created 257 construction jobs and has used or installed 1,200 cubic yards of cement, 8,800 tons of asphalt, 5.3 miles of electrical wiring, 1.3 miles of sewer lines, 2.5 miles of gas lines and 1.5 miles of water lines.

“This was a lot of construction work to do in a very short amount of time because of weather delays, but we got it done,” Swoyer said.

Work on the second phase of Grand Sky could begin as early as this summer, he noted. Swoyer added that the $7 million the state of North Dakota invested in Grand Sky has thus far been leveraged into $14 million private sector funds.

“It’s very important that we leverage that state money to create more value in the form of jobs, investment—and that value in jobs and investment has to come from the private sector,” he said.   


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