On Saturday, February 12, the University of North Dakota signed a lease agreement with Grand Forks Air Force Base. The lease provided the University with space to build a home for its unmanned aircraft systems program. The program supports a number of unmanned aircraft research and training systems.
A small signing ceremony was held inside the 5,000 square foot facility that will become the University’s Center for UAS Research, Education, and Training. Present at the signing for UND were Robert Kelly, University President, Al Palmer, Director of the UAS Center, and Bruce Smith, Dean of the School of Aerospace Sciences. Representing the Air Force was Col. Don Shaffer, Commander of the 319th Air Refueling Wing. Governor Jack Dalrymple and U.S. Senator John Hoeven also attended the ceremony.
The lease signing was hailed by all parties as a big step toward cooperation between the U.S. Air Force and UND, paving the way for future partnerships. As the Grand Forks Air Base is growing into the hub of unmanned aircraft technology, the resources that can be provided by the university are a welcome addition to the base.
The University of North Dakota had long been a resource in unmanned aircraft development. It drew together resources from the aerospace department, engineering department, and allied health to become the first institution offering a Bachelor’s degree in unmanned aircraft piloting. The Air Force has expressed extreme interest in the resources that the allied health department can bring to the table in terms of psychological and physiological requirements of future pilots.
The new facility at the base is intended to be up and running by June. University representatives say the first-year class in the piloting program will consist of 30 students, with many more expected in following years.
Senator John Hoeven, former North Dakota Governor, has been a supporter for unmanned aircraft advancement in the state for several years. He was instrumental in organizing support and over $10 million in funding for the creation of the Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
Grand Forks Air Base is the current home of several Predator aircraft used by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, but is expecting the Air Guard’s 119th Wing Predators very soon. The base is also in the running for one of four shared airspace development projects.
Click here to learn more about Unmanned Aircraft Systems training at the University of North Dakota.
Bio: Brian Jones is a professional freelance writer and journalist concentrating on issues of interest in science. Contact via twitter @BrianJonesMiami