North Dakota Investing $33M In UAS Infrastructure

The state’s investment represents one of the largest Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) for unmanned aircraft systems investments in the U.S.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, in partnership with the North Dakota Department of Commerce, has announced a $33 million investment in the UAS industry – of which a majority will be used to build out infrastructure to support beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) across North Dakota.

North Dakota
Nicholas Flom, Executive Director, Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft System Test Site, gives a speech during the first civil beyond visual line of sight event August 20, 2018, at the Grand Sky Air Park at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. The Federal Aviation Administration approved the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks to fly large unmanned aircraft systems beyond the visual line of sight Aug, 13, 2018, which marked a major milestone in the test sites history. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cierra Presentado)

“With these significant investments, North Dakota has once again sent a loud and clear signal that we are America’s premier proving grounds for UAS research, testing and commercialization,” said Gov. Burgum. “Our strong commitment to supporting UAS researchers, entrepreneurs and technology, combined with our open skies, four distinct seasons and industry sectors harnessing the potential of UAS through uses such as automated farming and precision agriculture, ensure North Dakota will continue to grow as a national leader in UAS. The exciting work made possible by our statewide UAS infrastructure network and beyond visual line of sight capability will diversify our economy and create lasting benefits for taxpayers, businesses and industry alike.”

The statewide BVLOS network will enable UAS efficiencies for state agencies, local communities and commercial sectors, including automated farming, precision agriculture and utility inspection to name a few. It will supply the infrastructure required for the command and control of UAS and the required surveillance equipment to support the safe integration of unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System.

“We’ve got plenty of sky, we’ve got plenty capacity to grow this industry,” said North Dakota Economic Development and Finance Director James K. Leiman. “We’re just very excited to be at the forefront of the nation’s evolution toward unmanned systems use.”

Subject matter experts within the state, including at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, will work with federal agencies to ensure regulatory compliance. The $33 million investment includes $28 million for statewide BVLOS infrastructure, $3 million to upgrade infrastructure at Grand Sky business development park and $2 million to support operations of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site.

“Adding capabilities like a statewide BVLOS network will bring more UAS opportunities to North Dakota for both commercial and testing,” said Nicholas Flom, Executive Director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. “We look forward to working closely with private industry and North Dakota stakeholders to keep us leaning into the future of UAS.”

With this new commitment, North Dakota will have invested approximately $77 million to advance UAS research and development within the state. North Dakota is home to several leading UAS industry companies developing technologies and operational models that are supporting the future development of the UAS industry in the United States.

“Come here, fly here, operate here, test here, evaluate here and grow your company here,” said Leiman. “If you have a military application, we have the Grand Sky Park. If you have a commercial or military or homeland security application, you can work with our people at the test site. If you have needs for research or commercialization of intellectual property, we have a very stellar team at both North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota, including the Research Institute for Autonomous Systems.”

North Dakota has enjoyed several UAS milestones this year alone:

  • In May, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao selected North Dakota as one of only 10 sites nationwide to participate in the federal UAS Integration Pilot Program, with the North Dakota Department of Transportation leading the effort in partnership with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and dozens of other partners.
  • In July, the first trans-Atlantic flight of a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS flew from Grand Sky research park near Grand Forks to England – 3,760 nautical miles in 24 hours, 2 minutes.
  • In August, Grand Sky welcomed U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to watch the first flight of a large UAS operating BVLOS without the use of a chase plane in controlled airspace.
  • In October, NDDOT and Northern Plains UAS Test Site, along with their partners, successfully completed the first public mission of the UAS Integration Pilot Program with a drone flight over a tailgating event at the Fargodome.

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