Officials from the Air Force and the Grand Sky project on Wednesday signed a joint use agreement allowing tenants at the business and aviation park for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to launch and recover manned and unmanned aircraft from the 12,351-foot runway at Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D.
The joint use agreement is unique in that it allows manned, unmanned and optionally manned commercial aircraft to use the Grand Forks runway, a step that is expected to help speed the introduction of large UAS into the national airspace, according to a news release.
Small UAS will continue to have a key role within the unmanned aircraft industry, says Thomas Swoyer Jr., president of Grand Sky Development Co., but the integration of large UAS into national airspace is a critical step forward in the industry’s overall growth and development.
“Large UAS’ offer a multitude of capabilities that can’t be matched by small UAS in terms of flight duration, range, payload capacity and payload types,” Swoyer said. “Additionally, the Grand Forks [joint use agreement] allows use of the runway for training purposes, which will allow our tenants the ability to offer in-demand UAS pilot training and help supply the industry with a needed workforce,” he said.
The Grand Sky project — the product of a 50-year lease between the Air Force and Grand Forks County for a 217-acre site — calls for 1.2 million square feet of hangar, office, shop, laboratory and data center space, with buildout scheduled to take seven years. The county awarded a sublease to Grand Sky Development Co. to develop the project.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems is expected to be the first Grand Sky tenant to use the Air Force runway. The company is constructing a temporary hangar on site and is expected to begin training UAS flight crews from around the world this summer. Northrop Grumman is building a 36,000-square foot facility, expected to be complete later this year, which will be used for UAS research and training.