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UAS firm could employ 100 in GF

Defense industry giant Northrop Grumman is coming to Grand Forks, and it promises to bring some economic goodies, including as many as 100 new employees.

Defense industry giant Northrop Grumman is coming to Grand Forks, and it promises to bring some economic goodies, including as many as 100 new employees.

The company is opening a new office in town to pave the way for the arrival next summer of the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft system at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Initially, there would be only a few employees here, said Ed Walby, director of business development with the Global Hawk program. But that will increase to about 25 in about a year, he said, and it wouldn't surprise him if it reached about 100 a few years after that.

"As long as Global Hawks are here, those people will be here," Walby said.

Northrop Grumman subcontractors such as Raytheon, which makes the sensors and communication system, and Rolls-Royce, which makes the engines, will likely also bring their own employees, he said.


These numbers reflects the company's experiences at other U.S. bases that operate the enormous unmanned aircraft, which sport wingspans longer than those belonging to U-2 spy planes.

Grand Forks is unique, though, because the Global Hawks coming here will be the only ones in the world with the RTIP sensors, which are advanced radars that identify vehicles and structures on the ground, Walby said.

As other countries acquire Global Hawks -- NATO is interested -- they'll make their way to Grand Forks to seek guidance and training, he said. UND, of course, is developing a specialty in training unmanned aircraft pilots, he said, so it's very possible that the university could become the pipeline for training Global Hawk pilots.

It doesn't hurt either that North Dakota's airspace is uncongested.

Unlike most unmanned aircraft, which generally are banned from flying in national airspace because of the perceived risk to manned aircraft, the Global Hawk can fly here, if it gets permission from the Federal Aviation Administration, Walby said. And with the airspace here, permission should be a routine matter, he said.

Global Hawk operates at about 40,000 feet, well above the cruising altitude of most civilian aircraft.

Like UND, local businesses also could benefit from Global Hawk's presence. Northrop Grumman will be briefing them on the opportunities Friday.

Walby said the company would procure goods and services locally that can range from items as simple as liquid oxygen or as complex as spare parts. The company will encourage its suppliers to do the same, he said.


The company is holding a grand opening for its new office at UND's Ina Mae Rude Entrepreneur Center at 2 p.m. Friday and presenting a $25,000 grant to the university's School of Aerospace Sciences. At 7:30 p.m., the company will convene a town hall meeting in the Alerus Center.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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