OUR OPINION: Ready for takeoff

There's a big jigsaw puzzle out there. When it's completed, it'll show the northern Red River Valley as a national center of unmanned aerial vehicle activity.

There's a big jigsaw puzzle out there. When it's completed, it'll show the northern Red River Valley as a national center of unmanned aerial vehicle activity.

And on Wednesday, one of the puzzle's corner pieces got put into place.

With the help of federal stimulus dollars, Northland Community and Technical College is launching a program to train UAV mechanics and technicians.

The program is the perfect complement to the UAV pilot training now being offered at UND, the UAV airspace initiatives under way at the university and Grand Forks Air Force Base, the steady rise of civilian and military UAV activity at the base and other developments.

The three-year, nearly $5 million grant will build on Northland's existing strength in aircraft maintenance training. The money will buy the tools and aircraft that the new program will need.


When the program is up and running, it will train technicians to maintain not only the aircraft themselves but also their ground control systems -- very complicated pieces of precision aviation equipment.

That will pump up the valley's reputation as a go-to place for UAVs, one of the most exciting and fastest-growing industries in the world.

And that's no accident. Starting with the Air Force Base winning a UAV mission -- a designation that North Dakota's congressional delegation helped bring about -- the valley's UAV strength is growing only because of a lot of people's hard and effective work.

The Northland puzzle piece is no exception. "Senators and representatives from both Minnesota and North Dakota have been extremely supportive of the creation of the college's UAS Maintenance Training Center," the Thief River Falls Times reported Wednesday.

For example, "Congressman Collin Peterson from Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District wrote numerous letters in support of the college's grant proposal."

The project "faced early challenges," the story continued.

At first, Minnesota's budget deficit meant the state couldn't help. Luckily, "the Thief River Falls community has strong college supporters," Dan Klug, executive director of the college's foundation, told the Times.

"Northern State Bank's President David Beito, Thief River Falls Jobs Inc., and the Dondelinger Foundation all donated significant funds to underwrite development expenses," he said.


Then "these funds were matched by the Minnesota State College and Universities system, through the leadership of Chancellor Dr. James McCormick."

That money helped generate a well-thought-out proposal, which in turn landed the stimulus grant.

Northland's president Anne Temte said it best: "This is a classic example of the stars lining up."

UAV spending worldwide is expected to more than double over the next 10 years, the Teal Group of aviation analysts reported this month.

The spending will grow from $4.9 billion a year to $11.5 billion. About 76 percent of that spending will take place in the U.S.

And thanks to farsighted projects like the one Northland announced, the odds are that a good fraction of that money will wind up around here.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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