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Hoeven: Beyond line-of-sight puts ND UAS ahead

By Staff | Jan 6, 2017

Last week, North Dakota took another step to stay ahead of the competition in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) research, development and training. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved beyond-line-of-sight operations for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, allowing companies in our state to conduct UAS operations that are not possible anywhere else in the nation. At the same time, this authorization will attract government and military agencies to our state, such as the Air Force, the Department of Homeland Security and NASA, as they work to integrate UAS into the national air space (NAS).

Beyond-visual-line-of-sight operability means being able to fly a remotely piloted aircraft without a ground observer or chase plane. It is a vital capability, because in order to use UAS for commercial applications, they will have to be flown beyond the line of sight in the NAS concurrently with piloted aircraft and other UAS.

Remotely piloted aircraft are already being used by our military overseas and by the Customs and Border Patrol at home. They are also being used, to a limited extent, in agriculture, energy and some other industries. Someday, however, they will be used routinely by farmers to more efficiently irrigate and reduce pesticide use, by builders and architects on construction sites and by engineers to monitor pipelines and transmission lines. You may at some time in the future even get your Christmas presents delivered by UAS to your front door. The uses are limited only by the imagination.

We were the first to be granted this operability due to our hard work for more than a decade to make our state the ideal location to initiate this capability. It started in 2006 during my time as governor when we established the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence at the University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. Our objective was to secure UAS missions for the Grand Forks Air Force Base and the North Dakota Air National Guard in Fargo. From there, we started building a path forward by, among other things:

– Establishing Grand Sky at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

– Creating the FAA’s test site program, which includes the Northern Plains UAS Test Site.

– Securing funding to upgrade the DASR-11 digital radar system at Grand Forks.

The Northern Plains UAS Test Site has already made remarkable gains, such as nighttime operations, flying multiple aircraft in the same airspace and researching and testing aircraft at altitudes up to 1,200 feet, and Grand Sky is growing apace, with major global companies like Northrop Grumman and General Atomics in residence at the tech park. Beyond-line-of-sight authorization further cements North Dakota’s position as a leader in the UAS industry. There’s much more to do, of course, and I am committed to supporting that effort, but today North Dakotans can be proud of our growing role in this exciting new industry.

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