Gov. Jack Dalrymple today signed an executive order to establish the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority. Dalrymple also announced the appointment of former 119th North Dakota Air National Guard Commander Col. Robert Becklund to serve as director of the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site.
"Bob's extensive experience in Unmanned Systems and his leadership in the North Dakota Air National Guard will be great assets as we advance the development of the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site," Dalrymple said. "By leveraging our resources and expertise at the University of North Dakota, the Grand Forks Air Force Base, the North Dakota Air National Guard and at our growing cluster of high-tech businesses that support our growing UAS industry, we have a great deal to offer in establishing a North Dakota test site."
Col. Robert Becklund served most recently in the North Dakota National Guard and has recently returned from duty on the United States Air Force's (USAF) Remotely Piloted Aircraft (USAF RPA) Task Force at the Pentagon. The USAF RPA Task Force consists of a select group of unmanned aircraft tactical and technical experts assigned to assist the USAF and Department of Defense leadership in forming policy and making acquisition and operational decisions related to the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities provided by Remotely Piloted Aircraft. As part of this duty, Col. Becklund participated in the Office of Secretary of Defense's Unmanned Aircraft Airspace Integration Process Team.
As the test site's director, Becklund will lead all UAS-related activities within the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. He will be the primary point of contact for all communications with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Dalrymple recommended and the Legislature has approved a total appropriation of $5 million to pursue and develop a national UAS test site in North Dakota. Of the funding package, $4 million in operational funding is contingent on FAA selection of a North Dakota test site.
In signing the executive order, Dalrymple established a six-member Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority. The authority is chaired by Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley. Other members of the oversight authority represent North Dakota's general aviation industry, University of North Dakota Aerospace, the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, the North Dakota Department of Commerce and the Office of the North Dakota Adjutant General.
Earlier this month the North Dakota Department of Commerce, with support from the North Dakota Airspace Integration Team, submitted an application to the FAA to become a test site for integrating UAS into the National Airspace. Six locations are projected to be chosen by year's end.
"I am very excited for the opportunity to contribute to North Dakota's efforts in shaping this revolutionary UAS technology that is defining a new era in aviation history," Becklund said. "North Dakota is already a national leader in manned and unmanned aviation and will be an incredible asset to the FAA if chosen as one of their UAS National Test Sites. I look forward to the challenges ahead as we work to assure the FAA that our selection as a UAS test site would be good for this nation."