Northern Plains UAS Test Site Announces Research Collaboration With FAA

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. – The Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site announced today a research initiative with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the implementation, operation, and maintenance of UAS Traffic Management (UTM) systems in the National Airspace System.

The primary goal of the UTM Pilot Program is to develop, demonstrate, and provide an enterprise service to support UAS Traffic Management operations. The program will be an important component of the initial transfer of NASA’s UTM research technologies to FAA and Industry.

Tests will be conducted in partnership with the University of North Dakota (UND) and UAS company partners, including Simulyze, Inc., Rockwell Collins, AiRXOS, Harris Corporation, Echodyne, and uAvionix. 

“Representatives from the FAA will work directly with the Test Site and our partners to test their latest build of their UTM system,” Northern Plains UAS Test Site Executive Director Nick Flom said. “Data gathered from this type of testing is the critical information needed to ensure safe management of UAS in the national airspace to help move commercialization of the industry forward.”

Flight tests will take place in the Grand Forks and Thompson, ND areas. Each flight event will evaluate different components and capabilities of the deployed system. Much of the UTM system relies on communication of information between the users of the system. Understanding the flow of information in the operational system from user to the UTM and FAA systems is a component of these test efforts. How these flights can be accomplished in uncontrolled and controlled airspaces in both visual and beyond-visual line of sight of the pilot in command will be evaluated.

North Dakota has invested over $44 million to advance UAS research and development, and the state currently has about 40 companies focused on UAS or that have UAS functions, products or relationships in their business models, according to the Department of Commerce.

North Dakota has enjoyed several UAS milestones this year alone:

  • In November, Gov. Doug Burgum announced a $30 million proposal to build out infrastructure that would support beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations for UAS across North Dakota.
  • 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 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 September, NDDOT and Northern Plains UAS Test Site along with their partners successfully completed their first public mission of the UAS Integration Pilot Program with a drone flight over a tailgating event at the Fargodome.
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