UND is key player in federally mandated UAS testing program
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Monday, April 21, that North Dakota is the first of the six test sites chosen to perform unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research to go live.
The announcement of the Certificate of Authorization (COA) to the N.D. Department of Commerce was made by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta at a news conference at the University of North Dakota John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
UND's Aerospace College and College of Engineering & Mines, which works on sense-and-avoid technologies and payload issues, have led the state in UAS research, education, and service. UND's Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Research Compliance Committee is the first of its kind in the nation to look at protocols, privacy issues, and other concerns.
The FAA's decision came two-and-a-half months ahead of the deadline specified for the national UAS test site program by Congress. The UND Center of Excellence for UAS ― part of UND Aerospace ― will play a central role in UAS testing and evaluation process. It follows the FAA decision late last year to name North Dakota one of six sites in the nation where UAS research, development and testing will take place to help the agency integrate these remotely piloted aircraft to operate in the national air space.
Today's COA ― which is good for two years ― signals the launch of testing with a Draganflyer X4ES small UAS at the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site. The test UAS flight operations are set to start the week of May 5.
"North Dakota has really taken the lead in supporting the growing unmanned aircraft industry," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a release about the announcement. "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."
"The advancement of technologies required to fly such sophisticated systems can only come from partnerships among research universities, like the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University; the federal and state agencies that will test and regulate UAV usage; and the industries that manufacture these exciting flight platforms," said UND President Robert Kelley. "It will be satisfying to see UND continue its leadership role in the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site."
"The University of North Dakota is proud to be part of North Dakota's designation as a UAS test site," said UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas DiLorenzo, who was part of the UND team that accompanied Huerta during his UND visit. "UND has been a key leader in UAS research, development, teaching, and testing. We look forward to this collaboration that is so vital to the future of North Dakota and the nation."
"An important part of this decision is the whole area of education and research, and the economic development piece as linked to a research university," DiLorenzo said. "This is a really exciting time in history. I can imagine students from all over the world would want to come here to be a part of the future of aviation and UAS."
DiLorenzo said he was also excited about UND's collaboration with North Dakota State University, Lake Region State College, and Northland Community & Technical College.
"We're all to be a part of the educational possibilities associated with UAS research and testing," DiLorenzo said.
The main goal of this site's initial operations is to show that UAS can check soil quality and the status of crops in support of North Dakota State University Extension Service precision agriculture research studies. Precision agriculture is one of many industries that represent areas for significant economic opportunity and UAS industry expansion.
While supporting the precision agriculture project, the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site also will collect safety-related operational data needed for UAS airspace integration. The information will help the FAA analyze current processes for establishing small UAS airworthiness and system maturity. Maintenance data collected during site operations will support a prototype database for UAS maintenance and repair.
"These data will lay the groundwork for reducing risks and ensuring continued safe operations of UAS," said Huerta. "We believe the test site programs will be extremely valuable to integrating unmanned aircraft and fostering America's leadership in advancing this technology."
According to the FAA announcement, the North Dakota COA covers two separate geographical locations. Initial flights will be conducted over North Dakota State University's Carrington Research Extension Center located in Carrington, N.D. The second set of missions, scheduled for summer 2014, will fly over Sullys Hill National Game Preserve near Devils Lake, N.D.
The FAA announced the selection of six congressionally-mandated test sites on Dec. 30, 2013.The FAA is working with the test sites to guide their research programs to help the FAA safely integrate UAS into the national airspace over the next several years.
Huerta was invited to North Dakota by Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven to hold a round table at UND Aerospace about the potential of UAS.
Before the news conference and round table, Huerta toured UND Aerospace facilities, in the company of Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, UND Provost Thomas DiLorenzo, UND Aerospace Dean Bruce Smith, Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown, and many other UND UAS leaders, faculty and members of the Grand Forks civic community.
The round table discussion included, among other people, Bob Becklund, Executive Director of the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority; Smith; Al Palmer, Director of the UND Center for UAS Research, Education and Training; and Kelly Rusch, Vice President of Research and Creative Activities at NDSU.