NORTH DAKOTA: Uniting UAS business

By UAS Magazine Staff | October 15, 2014

North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley believes the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration made the right decision in choosing his state for an unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test site. Speaking at a standing room only media event preceding the 8th Annual UAS Action Summit held in Grand Forks, North Dakota, earlier this year, Wrigley made a bold statement regarding the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. “We believe that we will be the premier test site in America,” he said.

Based on the state’s history and recent adoption of UAS use, Wrigley may be right. North Dakota has been using UAS for more than a decade by entities including the N.D. Air and Army National Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Grand Forks Air Force Base and the University of North Dakota UAS Center of Research, Education and Training. To date, the state has invested $13 million into UAS research and development along with another $5 million to the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. The N.D. Chamber of Commerce is also working to develop the GrandSky business park located next to Grand Forks Air Force Base. The park will include 217 acres for UAS-based businesses to house operations.

The Northern Plains UAS team includes several state-based institutions along with private businesses both large and small. From UND, testing will include sense-and-avoid mitigation research, airspace integration, payload and sensor use, and factors impacting UAS operators. North Dakota State University is working on data interpretation for agriculture. Lake Region State College is developing a law enforcement program for UAS and Northland Community & Technical College has begun building a training program tailored for UAS maintenance technicians.

From the private sector, partners include General Atomics, Northrup Grumman, Ideal Aerosmith, and several others. Northrup Grumman recently donated two SandShark remotely piloted aircraft trainers to UND for UAS research efforts. “The international UAS training market is growing exponentially and the University of North Dakota is considered a UAS training center of excellence,” said Al Palmer, director of UND’s Center for UAS Training, following the Northrup Grumman SandShark donation. “Until now, we haven’t offered international UAS pilot training,” he added, noting that the SandSharks will allow the Northern Plains UAS Test Site staple to “provide training to international students on their native soil.”