UND approved for UAS testing


A Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle, similar to the ones used at the Grand Forks air base. Photo submitted.

In 2011, the United States Congress passed a law allowing the Federal Aviation Administration to start testing unmanned aircraft systems, and, last Monday, it was announced UND has been approved to start researching, the first test sight granted rights to do so.

“Today, the FAA is granting the first authorization in the United States to allow a test site to start flying unmanned aircraft,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “And that test site is right here, in North Dakota.”

There will be six sites across the United States that will be given a Certificate of Approval for the testing of the systems, which will be good for two years. UND will start testing the first week of May at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center in Carrington, N.D.

“Thanks to the great work of everybody here, we made darn sure one of those sites was Grand Forks, Northern Plains Center,” Rep. John Hoeven said.

In addition to Huerta and Hoeven, Rep. Kevin Cramer, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, N.D. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Provost Thomas DiLorenzo, Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, UND Aerospace Dean Bruce Smith, Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown and President Robert Kelley all attended the conference to announce the news.

The Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site in North Dakota will test the ability of a UAS to check the status of crops and soil quality. The testing will be done in conjunction with NDSU’s Extension Service precision agriculture research studies. It will also collect safety-related operational data needed for UAS airspace integration and maintenance data will help a prototype database for maintenance and repair of UAS.

“We made the commitment that the state of North Dakota would step up and do whatever it could to support the effort,” Dalrymple said. “And I’m proud to say that our state has invested over $14 million at this point to advance UAS research and development, and we have organized a complete program to embrace this incredible opportunity.”

UND will partner with three other colleges around the state — NDSU, Northland Community and Technical College and Lake Region State College for the testing

“The advancement of technologies required to fly such sophisticated systems can only come from partnerships among research universities, like the UND and NDSU, the federal and state agencies that will test and regulate UAS usage and the industries that manufacture these exciting flight platforms,” Kelley said. “It will be satisfying to see UND continue its leadership role in the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site.”

The COA will cover two locations in North Dakota: the Carrington region and Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve near Devils Lake, N.D. The second set of missions near Devils Lake will begin summer 2014.

The testing at the six separate sites around the country will help the FAA integrate unmanned aircraft into the nation’s airspace by next year.

“North Dakota has really taken the lead in supporting the growing unmanned aircraft industry,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “We look forward to the contributions they and the other test sites will make toward our efforts to ensure the safe and efficient integration of UAS into our nation’s skies.”

Megan Hoffman is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].