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North Dakota Leaders Promote UAS Assets in Washington, D.C.

Fargo, N.D. – North Dakota unmanned aerial systems (UAS) leaders and North Dakota State University representatives will be in Washington, D.C., on Thurs., Sept. 19 to attend the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus Science and Technology Fair to be held in the Rayburn House Office Building Foyer.

During the Unmanned Systems Caucus Fair, the delegation will build awareness of North Dakota’s efforts to be chosen as one of six Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test sites tasked to assist the FAA to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the same airspace as manned vehicles.

North Dakota’s two major research universities, including NDSU, are expected to play key roles as the state competes to become one of six Federal Aviation Administration test sites for unmanned aerial vehicles and systems to be named by the end of the year. NDSU expertise in this research area includes transportation, agriculture, electronics, coatings and computational science.

North Dakota will have the opportunity to showcase its UAS capabilities alongside other organizations including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Northrup Grumman, General Atomics and NASA, based on efforts coordinated by ND Congressman Kevin Cramer.

“Being a member of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, I was happy to ensure the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority received a table at the Caucus Fair,” said Congressman Cramer. “The Northern Plains group will do an excellent job furthering our goal to increase awareness of unmanned systems and its potential benefits to industry, government and private users.”

North Dakota has created the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority, led by its Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley. North Dakota has appropriated $5 million to pursue and develop a national UAS test site by Coupon Companion">, $4 million of which is operational funding contingent on FAA selection of a North Dakota test site.

Robert Becklund, recently appointed as the executive director of the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority, is currently overseeing the state’s UAS efforts and is the primary contact with the FAA. 

“In the past few months, we’ve taken a variety of steps to assure that the UAS decision-makers in the industry, government and academia are aware of the incredible capabilities that North Dakota can offer them,” Becklund said. Becklund’s career mirrors that of the UAS industry in the United States which has moved from military to civilian applications in just the past few years.

Becklund began his military career by enlisting in the North Dakota Air National Guard in 1982 as a Flight Simulator Technician, before eventually becoming the commander of the North Dakota Air National Guard in 2004. During his time as commander, Becklund was integral in switching the unit from manned F-16 fighters to unmanned MQ-1 Predator UASs.  

Now, Becklund has been tasked with bringing one of the UAS test sites to North Dakota.

“Here in North Dakota, we have all the elements needed to assist the FAA,” said Becklund. “We have low population density, strong UAS research through our team members at the University of North Dakota (UND) and North Dakota State University, unequalled aviation training and expertise at the UND’s Aerospace Program, and plenty of UAS expertise thanks to the local and deployed flight activity of UND and the Office of the Adjutant General.”

In addition to promoting the state’s UAS strengths, Becklund is currently preparing for test site operations, since the FAA proposal has mandated that test sites begin operations within 180 days after selection.

Preparations include identifying research projects that study key points of interest for the FAA including command and control links, and detect-and-avoid systems, identifying needed infrastructure for the site and communicating to companies the business benefits of working in North Dakota including tax incentives and research support.

“North Dakota is the right place at the right time for a thriving UAS industry,” Lt. Gov. Wrigley said. “The infrastructure and expertise already in action around North Dakota prove that we are in a prime position to advance the nation’s UAS efforts.”

The FAA, which received 25 proposals from around the nation, is scheduled to make an announcement in December.


North Dakota’s Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority membership includes UAS experts from the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences – University of North Dakota; the Office of Research, Creative Activities, and Technology Transfer – North Dakota State University; the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission; the North Dakota Department of Commerce; and North Dakota’s Office of the Adjutant General.

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