UND, Northern Plains UAS Test Site awarded Air Force contracts

The effort was made in the first of a three-phase program.

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Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

The United States Air Force has awarded four contracts to UND and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to help develop unmanned aerial systems.

The Air Force awarded the contracts under its Agility Prime initiative, the goal of which is to develop small, agile and low-cost unmanned aerial systems to support basic Air Force missions. NPUASTS, UND and the UND Aerospace Foundation were awarded contracts to develop technology to assess the risks of hazardous weather to drones, as well as to develop detect and avoid such weather systems. The contracts were awarded in the first phase of a three-phase program.

“We worked hard to make the case that North Dakota was the right place for this work, considering our continued growth as a premiere hub for UAS,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., in a news release. “The expertise of UND and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site put us in a strong position to play an important role in the Air Force’s Agility Prime initiative and will be key in advancing the technologies needed to develop these small aircraft, which will offer flexibility and efficiency to Air Force operations. We will continue advancing this and other initiatives to secure new investment and realize opportunities in our state’s tech sector.”

Hoeven, long an ardent supporter of the UAS sector in the state, touched on the Agility Prime program at the 14th UAS Summit held in late October , when he stressed the initiative’s potential to create new avenues of investment and growth in the state’s unmanned technology industry. Hoeven worked with Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, to have Agility Prime research conducted at the Test Site and UND.

“The Agility Prime projects are directly aligned with our current expertise, and they’ll help UND move forward with our research related to autonomy and national security,” said John Mihelich, vice president for research and development at UND.


The four contracts awarded are as follows:

-- Spectrum Efficient UAV Communications System, $75,087. In partnership with NPUASTS and the Shared Spectrum Company (SSC), UND proposes to implement and demonstrate dynamic spectrum access (DSA) communications technology to improve the capacity and reliability of air vehicle data networks.

-- Weather Scout, $45,756. In collaboration with Daniel H. Wagner Associates Inc. and a variety of UAS private sector companies, UND will help to address the risks of hazardous weather to UAS operations. This phase includes identifying stakeholders, determining appropriate UAS platforms and instruments and developing a flight test plan for a prototype weather scout system.

-- Flite Core Cloud System, $45,000. In collaboration with Daniel H. Wagner Associates Inc., TruWeather Solutions and Atlantic Drone Pros, UND will address the need for intelligent traffic management to mitigate risks for low-altitude UAS. This phase includes interfacing with existing monitoring components to assess real-time risk and support route planning.

-- Low SWAP ACAS-Xu based Detect and Avoid, contract amount to be determined. In partnership with NPUASTS and Sagetech Avionics Inc., the UND Aerospace Foundation will provide analysis and flight test support in the development of an airborne DAA system, enabling small UAS to safely operate beyond visual line-of-sight in the National Airspace System.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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