North Dakota Test Site Receives BVLOS Permissions

Drone research in North Dakota is about to take a big step forward.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., announced today that Federal Aviation Administration approved a certificate of authorization for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to oversee beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations, according to a news release.

This means North Dakota’s test site is the first in the nation to secure such permissions and will be able to support the development, testing and evaluation of applications for unmanned aircraft systems technology.

“The FAA’s approval of this COA is a major step forward for North Dakota and the UAS industry in general because UAS will have to be able to fly beyond the line of sight in order to operate concurrently with piloted aircraft in the National Air Space,” Hoeven said in a statement. “This authorization will help companies like General Atomics, Northrop Grumman and future tenants at the Grand Sky technology park test and evaluate complex UAS operations possible nowhere else in the nation. It also makes North Dakota an attractive place for government agencies like NASA, the Air Force and the Department of Homeland Security to integrate UAS into the national airspace system.”

North Dakota is ideally suited to support beyond line of sight operations with the combination of the test site, the Grand Sky technology park and Grand Forks Air Force Base. The base is home to the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system and a digital radar system called DASR-11 digital, which allows operators to track unmanned aircraft during beyond the sight of the UAS operator.

“Grand Forks and the entire Red River Valley lead the country in developing and advancing these exciting technologies,” U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement. “Today’s announcement puts the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in an even better position. It’s encouraging to see FAA move ahead on this authorization after pressing the administration, and I look forward to helping expand North Dakota’s leadership in UAS even further in the coming year.”

The Northern Plains UAS Test Site will continue to use a chase plane  — an aircraft that follows a drone in the air to maintain visual sight — until Grand Sky implements a scheduled software upgrade to its system so that it can link to the DASR-11 radar at Grand Forks Air Force Base, the release said.