Senator hails UNDs UAS success

Joel Robberstad, crew chief of UND's ScanEagle photo Eric Hylden

Senator Kent Conrad today visited the University of North Dakota’s Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems and noted how Grand Forks has quickly become a world-renowned center for unmanned aerial vehicles research, education and training.

“As UAS operations play an ever-increasing role, there will be an even greater need to develop the technology to support these systems for our military and other uses.  That is a need that North Dakota is filling,” Senator Conrad said.  “We have the higher learning institutions and private business to support UAS activities. And as a result, North Dakota has become the nation’s premiere center for UAS.”

Senator Conrad toured  UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences where instructors are training the next generation of pilots. UND is the only school in the world to offer a degree program in UAS.  The Senator had the opportunity to test the university’s ScanEagle reconnaissance aircraft. UND has been using the ScanEagle to monitor flooding of the Red River near Grand Forks.

Senator Conrad was briefed by the school’s dean, Bruce Smith, on the progress of construction of UND’s new state of the art facility at Grand Forks Air Force Base. The new facility should be completed by this summer and will allow students to train on two types of unmanned aircraft — the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper.

Senator Conrad has been a strong proponent of the new facility and successfully pushed Federal legislation to ease restrictions in U.S. airspace that limited UAS operations. Additionally, he has helped secure more than $23 million in federal funding for the center.

Senator Conrad also detailed plans for the 2011 Red River Valley Research Corridor Unmanned Aviation Systems Action Summit.  The nation’s premiere gathering for UAS industry leaders, policy makers, and researchers, will be held on June 2 – 3 in Grand Forks. Senator Conrad and Senator John Hoeven are honorary co-hosts for the summit.

The theme for this year’s summit is “UAS 2020: Looking to the Future.” The two-day conference will examine emerging UAS training and simulation and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts as well as the ongoing use and growth of unmanned, or remotely piloted, systems for commercial applications.