It's official! New UND/L-3 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training Center dedicated at Grand Forks Air Force Base

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University of North Dakota


The University of North Dakota and L-3 Simulation & Training (L-3 Link), together with state and federal dignitaries, today dedicated the UND/L-3 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Training Center at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The new facility is yet another example of how the University of North Dakota, through creative innovation and partnerships, is building the Exceptional UND, said UND President Robert O. Kelley.

“This is a great day for the University of North Dakota as we inaugurate what we believe is one of – if not THE -- preeminent unmanned aircraft systems training, education and research facilities in the world,” said Kelley. “We are grateful for our partnerships with so many who have had a hand in helping us create this exceptional facility: the Grand Forks Air Force Base, which is a generous host, the Office of the Governor and other state leaders, the current and former members of our Congressional delegation, all of whom are so supportive, local leaders and organizations – the Mayor’s Office, the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Corporation and more -- and L-3 Link, which has worked closely with us to put in place the needed technology.”

“L-3 Link is proud to join the University of North Dakota today in dedicating the first non-military UAS educational institution in the U.S.,” said Leonard Genna, president of L-3 Link. “This state-of-the-art training center will provide students with expert classroom instruction, hands-on training on a high-fidelity MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper ground control station simulator and prepare graduates to operate these advanced UAS platforms.”

The ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony took place at 1:30 p.m. today (Aug. 10) at the new facility, which is housed in Building 607 on the base.

“North Dakota is on the forefront of cutting edge UAS research and development, and this training facility is an important part of our efforts to position North Dakota as a leader in the global UAS industry,” said North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple. “The world-class training and instruction that will take place at this facility will expand North Dakota’s presence in the UAS market and create exciting opportunities for our state.”

"Grand Forks is leading the way in UAS and the many applications of this emerging technology," said North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, who worked with Senator Byron Dorgan and Congressman Earl Pomeroy to secure more than $17 million in federal funds for the UND UAS Center of Excellence program since it was first created with federal funding in 2006. "This training facility will continue to build upon the strong partnerships the community already has with the University, the Air Force, federal agencies and business. North Dakota is on the path to secure a permanent place as a global leader in UAS training and operations."

"We have only scratched the surface of what these UAS are capable of," said Conrad. "Grand Forks will be able to play a leading role in the development of this exciting technology. The arrival of Global Hawk is just around the corner, and Predators are just a year away. There's a bright future for Grand Forks, and this new training facility is further proof."

The training facility is made possible in large part by funding from a $5 million state Centers of Excellence Enhancement grant ($2.8 million for the training facility), approved under the state Centers of Excellence program, which was established by Senator John Hoeven during his term as governor of North Dakota. The grant funded the necessary remodeling of Building 607 and the staffing of the facility; the grant also helped with the purchase from L-3 Link of a Predator Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS), a state-of-the-art unmanned aircraft simulator that will be the cornerstone of the center. UND will be the first civilian operator of the PMATS.

Hoeven is also sponsoring an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill that calls for the agency to develop a plan to accelerate the integration of unmanned aerial systems into the National Air Space at pilot test sites across the country. Grand Forks Air Force Base has all of the qualifications necessary to make such a project a model for the future, Hoeven said earlier this year.

"We're already flying UAVs in airspace all over the world," Hoeven said. "Now we need to open the skies for them at home to make our nation more secure, our communities safer, and our economy more dynamic, creating jobs and opportunities in our country."

“The opening of the UND/L-3 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training Center is yet another example of North Dakota’s leadership in unmanned aircraft research and advancement,” said North Dakota congressman Rick Berg. “Unmanned aircraft holds tremendous potential for our state and will provide new opportunities for agriculture, education and border security. I’m excited to see sustained enthusiasm for UAS training and research in North Dakota, and I’m confident that this training facility will become an integral component in North Dakota’s role as a key leader in this technology.”

A member of the Unmanned Systems Caucus, Berg authored an amendment to the FAA reauthorization act that would allow the FAA to create new test sites to study the effectiveness of allowing UAS to share airspace and runways with commercial aircraft. The amendment establishes criteria for the selection of the test sites, which places Grand Forks Air Force Base in a prime position to benefit from this testing and potentially be chosen as a testing site.

While its opening represents a new beginning in UAS operations at UND and at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, it also brings to an end more than two years of efforts to ensure UND and North Dakota has the "world class" training center that U.S. Sen. (ret.) Byron L. Dorgan envisioned after the 2005 round of military base closures and realignments.

“Today is another big step on the road to creating a world class UAS capability here on the northern Great Plains,” Dorgan said. “The combination of the Center for UAS Research at UND with their training and research work, coupled with the Air Force and Air National Guard UAS capabilities in Grand Forks and Fargo, make this one of the major UAS centers in the world.

“I am pleased to have played a role as a Senate Appropriator to help build these capabilities in the past several years.”

The new UND/L-3 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Training Center -- the latest addition to UND's growing UAS presence in the region -- is an integral part of the UND Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence program that was established in 2006.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence (UAS COE) performs research and development on UAS technologies, applications, and UAS human factors issues. The UAS COE also focuses on education and training for UAS integration into the national airspace system. Additionally, the center encourages commercialization of new UAS-related products and services and promotes private sector job growth within the state of North Dakota.

The UND/L-3 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Training Center is the result of an agreement between UND and U.S. Air Force to locate the facility at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Senator John Hoeven joined UND and Grand Forks Air Force Base officials at the facility in February to sign a historic agreement that will help to make Grand Forks a world-class hub for UAS technology, commerce, research and training.

UND also recently launched the country's first UAS operation degree program. Among the 1,500 people receiving degrees from UND this past spring were the first five graduates from this new program.

The UND/L-3 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Training Center is currently set up to accommodate 24 students in the classroom area with plans to make it usable for 30 in the future. There are two PMATS rooms; one will be operational immediately, the other will be available as training demand expands.

The facility also has a self-study library area with e-mail capability, student work areas, kitchenette services, a conference room with UAS-themed artwork as well as office and meeting space for L-3 Link and UND employees. The facility will initially occupy about 5,000 square feet of space with the option to expand to 9,000- 10,000 if the need arises.

"Unmanned aircraft are having a profound impact on aerospace," said Bruce Smith, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota. "And UND is on the leading edge of UAS development."

Smith added: “This is a historic event that marks the first ever collaboration between the University, L3 Link, the community, the State of North Dakota, the Air Force and the federal government. I know of no other college in higher education that could develop a degree program and a training system, in an emerging and complex technology, with this level of success, in such a short period of time. This is another significant accomplishment for the Odegard School.”