Berg tours UND's UAS training at Grand Forks airport
For the second time in less than a month, Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., visited Grand Forks to discuss the region's growing prominence in the unmanned aircraft systems industry that he said is "one of the keys long-term" for the success of Grand Forks ...
For the second time in less than a month, Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., visited Grand Forks to discuss the region's growing prominence in the unmanned aircraft systems industry that he said is "one of the keys long-term" for the success of Grand Forks Air Force Base and the state as a whole.
He toured flight operations at Grand Forks International Airport and discussed the next generation of UAS training that's now being developed by UND's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
Last month, Berg and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., met with local officials to discuss the end of the Grand Forks Air Force Base's 50-year tanker mission as the base moves ahead with its new UAS missions.
He said the university's UAS training in combination with the base's new missions is a "wonderful public-private sector collaboration" that will help Grand Forks become a premier UAS center.
"UAS has the potential of being a core part of the Air Force's mission and we can leverage the university, as well as the research and training at the university," he said. "It's an amazing operation UND has going."
'The leading edge'
The tour began at UND's new UAS Training Facility at the airport, where the university has a ScanEagle reconnaissance aircraft and a new simulator system to train the next generation of pilots.
Berg, himself a private pilot for the past 25 years, got a chance Wednesday to try his hand at flying a Predator B unmanned aircraft -- on a simulator, of course. He said the technology has "so many opportunities," both for law enforcement personnel and the military as well as in the private sector.
But he couldn't pass up a chance to crack a joke while controlling the surveillance aircraft's front-mounted camera with a joystick.
"So where do you shoot the rockets?" he asked.
Taylor Butterfield, UAS lead flight instructor for UND, said the university has seen "plenty of student interest" in the growing unmanned aircraft industries.
"It's probably the main area of aviation that is growing rapidly," he said. "We have a very established school for the commercial and professional pilots side of the things, and there are a number of students that now have interest in this side of aviation of the unmanned aircraft."
Butterfield said the university's UAS program had 15 students in the fall of 2009; 70 students were in the program last fall.
It's a developing technology and, for now, there are no Federal Aviation Administration licenses for UAS operators. But he said there's growing demand for trained pilots to operate the vehicles for the Air Force, remotely patrol the borders for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection or work as a civilian contractor for the military.
And Butterfield said more UAS-related professions are still being developed.
"We don't know yet what they're going to be used for, including cargo transport, firefighting, law enforcement and pipeline monitoring," he said. "It could be anything."
Butterfield said UND's ScanEagle aircraft can fly for 22 to 23 hours on two gallons of gas -- which means it could make search and rescue operations much cheaper and safer than sending out a team of four people in a helicopter to fly around the area.
"It could do the same search grid at the same airspeed for a fraction of the cost," he said.
After the tour, Berg said he was "astounded" by the collaboration between engineers, pilots and the university's aerospace school as the UAS program takes off.
"We're really at the leading edge here in Grand Forks," he said.
Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .