Grand Sky, U.S. Air Force sign runway joint use agreement

By Patrick C. Miller | March 31, 2016

The U.S. Air Force and the Grand Sky Business and Technology Park located at the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Air Force Base on Wednesday signed a joint use agreement to share the base’s runway.

The three members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation joined U.S. Air Force Undersecretary Lisa Disbrow and other federal, state and local leaders in Grand Forks to sign what Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) called “a vitally important agreement for Grand Sky and Grand Forks.”

Hoeven worked with senior Air Force officials, including Secretary Deborah Lee James and Gen. Herbert Carlisle, commander of the Air Combat Command, to complete a review of the agreement. He said it will allow Grand Sky tenants Northrop Grumman and General Atomics to access the same runway used by the Air Force to operate its Global Hawks.

“They will be able to both test products and train pilots for the next generation of UAS, which will advance Grand Forks’ role as the premier northern hub of UAS innovation,” Hoeven said.

Thomas Swoyer, Grand Sky Development Co. president, said that while small UAS will continue to have a key role within the UAS industry, the integration of large UAS into national airspace is a critical step forward in the industry’s overall growth and development.

“Large UAS’ offer a multitude of capabilities that can’t be matched by small UAS in terms of flight duration, range, payload capacity and payload types,” he explained. “Additionally, the Grand Forks joint use agreement allows use of the runway for training purposes, which will allow our tenants the ability to offer in-demand UAS pilot training and help supply the industry with a needed workforce.”

General Atomics broke ground last November on a 19,400 square foot training facility at Grand Sky, expected to be complete by August. The academy will operate year-round with the capacity to train more than 100 students per year. The company is currently in negotiations to offer training to pilots from six nations. Two countries are scheduled to start training in 2016. In its first year of operation, the academy will have about 25 staff, which is expected to triple to accommodate training for additional countries.

“Grand Sky is already a soaring success, and today it got yet another boost when the base and county signed this joint use agreement that I’ve long pushed for,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. “Soon private-sector aerospace leaders at Grand Sky will be taking off on the base’s runway along with Air Force Global Hawks.”

Heitkamp said Disbrow’s visit this week to the Grand Forks Air Force Base is her first to a North Dakota bases since being confirmed by the U.S. Senate last month as the No. 2 civilian official in the Air Force.

“Today’s agreement is another step forward for Grand Sky and the development of unmanned aircraft systems in North Dakota,” said Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “Grand Forks and North Dakota have become the epicenter of the dynamic field of UAS development.  By providing a home at Grand Sky for this young and fast-growing industry, the possibilities are endless for the future of unmanned aerial systems.”


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