Our view: More national UAS attention better for base
Herald editorial board
So much is happening in the world of unmanned aerial systems, and so much of it is happening beneath the national — and even local — radar.
For instance, do readers realize how greatly the drone industry has affected the wind-energy industry? Unmanned aerial vehicles are being used to carefully inspect wind turbine blades for nicks, scrapes and other inconsistencies that reduce productivity or outright threaten the entire tower. What once took hours is now taking only minutes per tower. The process is happening for thousands of towers throughout the U.S.
The UAS industry also is revolutionizing agriculture, providing detailed mapping that allows farmers to know precisely what part of a field needs more fertilizer.
The local UAS scene continues to gain attention, too, with the most recent national story coming via USA Today.
Saturday, the USA Today insert in the Herald included a short version of a feature on the Grand Forks UAS industry. A longer version can be found on USA Today's website.
A few quotes from the piece:
"One of the nation's most rural states, North Dakota has quickly become one of the leading spaces for drone research, experimentation and testing. ... Federal aviation officials closely restrict where and when most people can fly drones for commercial purposes. But portions of North Dakota received a special waiver giving pilots there much broader latitude. ... And Grand Forks is home to the nation's first commercial unmanned aircraft systems business park, Grand Sky."
The story notes that the drone industry could be worth $100 billion in the next two years and portrays Grand Forks as an industry leader. The Northern Plains test site is one of only six nationwide, USA Today notes, and companies there include "defense contracting giant Northrop Grumman."
This kind of national coverage is not just needed, but it comes at an opportune time. Last week, the Herald reported on the possibility of a future round of base realignment and closure — or BRAC — talks. If that happens, Grand Forks will need to be prepared to make its case to keep Grand Forks Air Force Base open.
One obvious upside to the local base is that it shares space with the UAS industry in a unique public/private partnership. Numerous leaders at the local, state and federal level feel the close relationship between UAS and the Air Force could be beneficial if GFAFB is ever closely scrutinized for closure.
Each time a national publication writes about Grand Forks and the UAS industry, we envision that high-end decision-makers in places like Washington, D.C., will read the story and thereby have a better understanding why our city, university and UAS industry need the base.
So keep those national stories coming, and keep raising awareness that the UAS industry is alive, well and important in Grand Forks.