Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp, Congressman Kevin Cramer and Governor Jack Dalrymple today announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected Grand Forks as one of six sites to test unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for integration into the National Airspace. The announcement comes after years of work by North Dakota's leaders to position Grand Forks as the premier northern UAS hub.
The FAA Reauthorization bill passed by Congress in February 2012 includes an amendment introduced by Hoeven that directed the agency to establish the test sites and integrate UAS into the National Airspace System. Hoeven's amendment instructed the FAA Administrator to consider factors including geographical and climatic diversity, as well as the location of ground infrastructure, in selecting the test sites.
Hoeven has worked, both as governor and now as U.S. Senator, with the state's UAS community to establish and maintain North Dakota's leadership in UAS technologies and to grow UAS operations in the Grand Forks region. In 2006, Hoeven and former Senator Byron Dorgan worked to seed the Center for UAS Research, Education and Training on the UND campus. Dorgan got the center designated as Department of Defense Center of Excellence for UAV Education. The same year, the North Dakota Centers of Excellence Program, initiated by then-Governor Hoeven, awarded the center $2.5 million, which it matched and leveraged to $15.8 million in federal and private-sector funding.
"We've said all along that Grand Forks is an ideal location to test UAS integration, and now the FAA has agreed with us," Hoeven said. "This test site designation, combined with Grand Sky, the Grand Forks region's new aerospace technology and business complex on Grand Forks Air Force Base, is tremendously important and enables the entire region to advance the work it has been doing to become the premier northern hub for unmanned aerial systems. As a test site, Grand Forks will be integral in developing the future commercial use of UAS for our nation and the world."
"The selection of Grand Forks as a UAS test site is an affirmation that the Grand Forks area is an ideal location for military installations, and unmanned aerial systems in particular," said Senator Heitkamp. "This designation is the result of collaboration between community leaders, the University of North Dakota, and local, state and federal officials. The test site will help grow the UAS industry throughout the nation and help make sure it can become a key part of North Dakota's economy. Grand Forks is very deserving of this program, and I look forward to continuing to support the community and program throughout its implementation."
Since taking office, Heitkamp has relentlessly advocated for the selection of Grand Forks as a UAS test site. Heitkamp has held numerous meetings with top military and Administration officials, including FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, to urge them to select Grand Forks. Heitkamp, who co-founded the Defense Communities Caucus, also helped facilitate an Enhanced Use Lease between the Air Force and Grand Forks County, which will help grow the UAS industry in the area.
"North Dakota's UAS Team did an outstanding job highlighting the superior assets of the Grand Forks area. In addition to the obvious advantages of uncongested air space, climate diversity and a culture of aviation, it is clear the unified voice of the many partners was a major factor in the FAA's decision," said Congressman Cramer. "State and local officials from North Dakota and Minnesota working with education, business and military leaders presented a unified front giving confidence to the decision makers."
Cramer is directly involved with UAS development as a member of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus.
Gov. Dalrymple and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley have led the state's efforts to establish a national UAS test site in North Dakota. The state has invested more than $14 million to establish a national UAS test site and to advance UAS research and development. In May, Dalrymple established the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Authority and appointed Lt. Gov. Wrigley to lead the state's efforts to land a test site and to pursue other UAS opportunities. Following Dalrymple's recommendation, the 63rd Legislative Assembly also supported the state's pursuit of a national UAS test site by appropriating $5 million, with $4 million in operations funding contingent on North Dakota being selected one of six test sites.
"The FAA's decision to locate one of only six national UAS test sites in North Dakota is good news for our state and for the entire nation," Dalrymple said. "We have worked very hard to make sure North Dakota is well positioned for this designation and to make sure that the FAA recognizes the many strengths that we offer in helping to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace. With this test site designation, we have a great opportunity to become a national hub for UAS research and development, to expand our national leadership in aerospace sciences and to further diversify our state economy."
The North Dakota leaders, along with the Grand Forks Base Realignment Impact Committee (BRIC), North Dakota Airspace Integration Team (AIT) and Grand Forks leaders have held meetings with the FAA regarding the site selection process to make the case for Grand Forks.
In addition, Hoeven and Heitkamp worked to help Grand Forks County secure an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) with the U.S. Air Force for the development of Grand Sky, a cutting-edge UAS technology and business park the county plans to build on approximately 217 acres at Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB). Last year, Hoeven brought senior Northrop Grumman officials, including Tom Vice, Northrop Grumman's Corporate VP and President of Aerospace Systems, to Grand Forks to see firsthand the tremendous synergies that are developing between Grand Forks BRIC, UND, the UND Aerospace Foundation and Northland Aerospace Foundation. He also worked to get Northrop Grumman, one of the world's premier aerospace and defense technology companies, to commit to be the park's first tenant. Northrop Grumman makes the RQ-4 Global Hawk, which is operated by the Air Combat Command unit at GFAFB.
"We envisioned collaborations here in practical and original ways to create a dynamic environment for the military, industry and education," Hoeven said. "Now all of those elements are coming together in a coordinated way to spur innovation, boost our economy and create jobs in the Grand Forks region."