UAS Roundtable serves up historic milestones

August 31, 2018

Many of those most aware of the growing trends for applications within the world of Unmanned Aerial Systems got together recently during a small discussion that ran concurrently with a larger annual event in Grand Forks.

Officials gathered at University of North Dakota last week for a UAS Roundtable during the 12th Annual UAS Summit & Expo, held at the Alerus Center.

Central to the roundtable was Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, on site to speak on the strategic applications of UAS, and to hear from academics, leaders and researchers within the North Dakota University System. The roundtable came on the heels of an historic moment for the UAS industry – and Grand Forks – when it began with the first Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flight launched from the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. The site was the first U.S. site to receive authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to allow BVLOS flights. Previously, all unmanned flights were accompanied by chase planes.

According to Wilson, it was a major milestone that would be felt “far beyond this community.”

“We’re going to start to demonstrate and figure out how manned and unmanned systems can operate in the same airspace,” Wilson noted. “We’re going to learn more about it. We’re going to push the limits and that makes this airspace very valuable as companies seek to develop technologies for the future of air and space.”

The Roundtable opened with remarks from NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott, a longtime proponent of UAS who has expounded on the merits of UAS in an increasingly digitally-competitive world.

“North Dakota University System is poised to make major progress in the field of unmanned systems,” Hagerott said. “This first Beyond Visual Line of Sight flight is the first of many innovations that will come from this invaluable research happening within NDUS now.”

Following Hagerott’s remarks, UND President Mark Kennedy and North Dakota State University Computer Science Department Chair Ken Nygard provided details on how their respective organizations were moving ahead in the UAS sphere. Both universities also had teams at the Summit, who provided demonstrations and talks on current UAS projects and their relation to cybersecurity, data analytics and high performance computing.

Additionally, Nick Flom from the Northern Plains UAS test site and Brig. Gen. Bob Becklund were among those in attendance.