An $11.4 million collaborative research project led by the University of North Dakota on unmanned aircraft called the Limited Deployment of Cooperative Aircraft Project could assist North Dakota in becoming a future national test site for unmanned aircraft, UND officials said.
The project proposal, drafted by research and unmanned aircraft officials from UND and North Dakota State University, will be presented to a state commission within the next month in order to approve a $4 million state investment for unmanned aircraft research and technology production over the next two years.
The ultimate goal? To create flying technology that would make it safer for unmanned aircraft systems to fly in national airspace. “The Holy Grail is to get UAS integrated into national airspace system,” said Al Palmer, the director of the UAS Center of Excellence at UND.
UND would receive $2.7 million of the proposed budget, and $1.3 million would go to NDSU, according to official documents. The universities will also receive help from NASA, the North Dakota National Guard, the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission and a Massachusetts-based research center called MITRE. The agencies have already promised a combined $7.4 million toward the project.
UAS integration is just one piece of what the Federal Aviation Administration calls its NextGen project. This FAA project is set to overhaul national airspace by 2020, making flying more efficient, cleaner and safer. Once the FAA’s budget is reauthorized this year, it will choose four to six UAS testing sites nationwide as a part of the NextGen project.
With the research to be completed by LDCAP, North Dakota hopes to be one of those sites. “At some point and time, hopefully, that budget will be passed, and the FAA will be mandated to identify (UAS test) sites around the United States,” he said. “Well, guess who wants to be the No. 1 site? North Dakota. … Why do we want to do it in North Dakota? We have all the pieces of the puzzle in North Dakota.”
The LDCAP budget still is awaiting approval from the Centers of Excellence Commission. The group, though, already has briefed the North Dakota Legislature on the project. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., was also briefed on the idea in November, when he was governor. Once he was elected to the U.S. Senate, Hoeven was a crucial part in pushing the FAA to include UAS test sites in their NextGen plans, Palmer said. “God bless him for that. He hit the ground running,” Palmer said. “It’s a good concept, so I’m very happy he chose to do that.”
Source: The Grand Forks Herald