Northrop Grumman expansion brings jobs to Grand Sky facility

By Patrick C. Miller | August 30, 2017

More jobs will be coming to North Dakota as a result of Northrup Grumman’s expansion of facilities at the Grand Sky Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Business and Aviation Park adjacent to the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Last week, the company started work on a 35,000-square-foot hanger capable of housing two Global Hawk-sized aircraft. In April, Northrop Grumman dedicated a 36,000-square-foot building at Grand Sky with office, classroom and lab space dedicated to fostering autonomous systems and other capabilities.

Dave Hambleton, Grand Sky program manager and Northrop Grumman site lead, said the hanger addition represents the second phase of construction planned for the facility. The new hanger and its support spaces will enable Global Hawk flight operations and modifications. The company plans to employ up to 100 people at the site before year’s end.

Hambleton and Mike Lyons, Global Hawk business development lead, spoke in Grand Forks last week during the 11th Annual UAS Summit & Expo about Northrop Grumman’s plans for the Grand Sky facility and work with the Air Force.

“We expect that Grand Sky is going to become a hub for flight tests, whether it’s developmental tests or operational tests,” Hambleton said. “Customers will continue to struggle with availability for ranges and air space. Offering an alternative to the existing ranges we use today is probably going to be well received. We expect flight tests to be a set of activities we do here.”

Hambleton believes the ability to conduct beyond visual line of sight operations from the Grand Sky facility will prove attractive to Northrop Grumman’s customers.

“Ideally, the beyond visual line of sight capability that the Grand Sky Development Co. and the (Northern Plains) UAS Test Site are working on with the FAA is going to enable us to conduct safe flight through the civil airspace without having to impose flight restrictions and also not require a chase plane,” he explained.

The types of research and development at the Grand Sky facility might include testing payloads, new sensors and data links for the Global Hawk, according to Hambleton.

“The testing is likely to be an end-to-end system test or an interoperability test of the sensor or payloads onboard the aircraft,” he said. “We could very well have to do acceptance testing after we modify aircraft.”

To support those activities Hambleton said the company has begun hiring. The types of jobs needed include technical writers, graphic artists, illustrators, pilots and sensor operators, as well as operations support personnel in such areas as mission planning and mission plan validation using simulations. He said Northrop Grumman will need engineers with experience in guidance control, navigation, payload, data and sensors, in addition to systems and software engineers.

“As the hanger is built, that could see the staff grow in a modest way,” Hambleton said.” I can’t predict today what the future total staffing level at Grand Sky is going to be for Northrop Grumman, but I can say that the business is going to drive the eventual staffing.”