Bruce Smith, dean, UND's Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences: UAS center helps N.D. fly high
By Bruce Smith GRAND FORKS -- The recent news about the state auditor's report on the Centers of Excellence Program compels me to write about the success of the Odegard School's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center for Training, Education and Researc...
By Bruce Smith
GRAND FORKS -- The recent news about the state auditor's report on the Centers of Excellence Program compels me to write about the success of the Odegard School's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center for Training, Education and Research, which was created by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., in 2005.
The Centers of Excellence Program, initiated by Gov. John Hoeven, has contributed to that success. We received a $1 million first-round award from the state in 2006 and a second-round award of $1.5 million in 2008. We were one of only two programs that received a second round of state funding.
That repeat funding suggests that from the beginning, we were considered to be compliant with the objectives of the program.
Not only has the UAS center been awarded $2.5 million of state funding, but also we have received more than $10 million in federal funding through the North Dakota congressional delegation, led by Dorgan through his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
We have received $2.75 million in major industry support as well. The center was one of the driving forces in keeping Grand Forks Air Force Base open through realignment to the UAS mission.
In addition to the more than 5-1 leveraging of funding and the additional economic impact of retaining the Air Force base, the Odegard School's UAS pilots provided a 24-hour-a-day vigil over the Red River in the spring, flying a Predator unmanned aircraft monitoring the dikes during the flooding in Fargo and Jamestown, N.D.
Additionally, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has relocated its UAS flying mission to Grand Forks, and the North Dakota Air National Guard now flies UAS combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Basically, the center has propelled UND and the Odegard School into the national spotlight as the leader of the transition of UAS from the military to civilian applications.
We now are the first university in the world to offer an undergraduate degree in UAS. The center has let UND capture research funding from the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, the Federal Aviation Administration and private industry.
The Odegard School now is in a position to develop national standards for UAS operations and provide training for pilots, systems operators, mechanics and virtually everyone else who touches a UAS. The center also has created significant high-paying employment opportunities with the current employment of a director, five full- time faculty/researchers, seventeen graduate students, three support staff and two pilots.
The center also has provided increased business opportunities for small, high-tech companies throughout North Dakota.
In light of this success, we are planning a major expansion of the center onto Grand Forks Air Force Base as a part of our next round of funding and in conjunction with the Base Realignment Initiative. The base certainly provides the best location for training simulators and access to the needed airspace.
The impact of the UAS center clearly indicates the governor's economic development Centers of Excellence Program was a great investment in North Dakota's future.
Smith is dean of UND's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.