Tag Archives: Grand Forks Grand Sky Drone Park

Northrop Grumman Expanding Grand Forks, North Dakota Unmanned Aerial Systems Facility


Photo: Northrop Grumman


“Less than a year after Northrop Grumman opened the doors to its new unmanned aerial systems facility in North Dakota, the company will soon break ground on a new hangar to conduct testing and maintenance on its family of autonomous systems.

The company expects to employ 100 people by the end of 2017, with a mix of current Northrop employees coming from San Diego and other locations, and new hires from the North Dakota area.

The Grand Sky Park, for which Northrop Grumman is the anchor tenant, hosts several commercial tenants with ties to unmanned aerial systems, including General Atomics, Hambleton said. Northrop committed over $10 million to the initial Grand Sky project, and its initial 36,000 square-foot facility was completed in late 2016.

The company in April announced the opening of its new facility at the Grand Sky Unmanned Aerial Systems Business and Aviation Park near Grand Forks. The facility serves as a “nucleus” for research and development, pilot, operator and maintainer training, as well as operations and mission analysis and aircraft maintenance, according to Northrop.

Before the end of the summer, Northrop will start work on a new hangar that will allow it to take advantage of the proximity of Grand Forks Air Force Base’s remotely piloted aircraft squadron, David Hambleton, Grand Sky program manager and site lead, said in an interview with National Defense.

Northrop leased 10 acres of land from the Air Force to build the recently opened facility and the 35,000 square-foot hangar, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2018, he said. Flight testing and aircraft maintenance for the company’s family of autonomous systems will begin by the following year, he added.

The company’s facility in North Dakota will be an “offshoot” of its autonomous systems division in San Diego, California, he said. “In one place, we have access to both civil and restricted airspace [and] opportunities to collaborate with the universities nearby” such as the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University, he said.

The Grand Sky team will have the ability to link different capabilities “through a modeling and simulation backbone,” he added. “We’ll be able to tie together system testing in a lab with monitoring mission data as it comes in, connecting to training simulators and linking them together in a technical way to enable new ways to doing what, in the past, we’ve done independently or separately.”

The FAA-designated Northern Plains unmanned aerial systems test site is also located in Grand Forks, and the Air Force’s fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft, produced by Northrop, is based next door, he noted.

“Having all of these capabilities and infrastructure concentrated here makes Grand Sky a desirable place for us to pursue flight testing and system demonstration,” he added.

Northrop expects to perform flight testing and maintenance for the Global Hawk fleet at Grand Sky, but also intends to support other unmanned systems such as the Navy’s forthcoming MQ-4C Triton surveillance aircraft or the MQ-8 Fire Scout reconnaissance helicopter, he added.

Northrop committed over $10 million to the initial Grand Sky project, and its initial 36,000 square-foot facility was completed in late 2016, he added.

The local community and the state of North Dakota were interested in developing the unmanned aerial systems industry in the Red River Valley region, he said. A group of local actors that included the University of North Dakota and Grand Forks County developed the Red River strategic alliance agreement.

“Northrop Grumman signed on to this agreement to promote the UAS industry,” he said. “That set the stage for the goal of creating… the Grand Sky aviation business park for UAS.”




Major Defense Companies Interested in North Dakota Drone Park


41300_GrandSky_Logo_4C“CNBC By DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press”

“The nation’s first unmanned aircraft business park currently under construction in North Dakota has a second major defense contractor interested in setting up shop.  Linden P. Blue, the CEO of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., plans to visit in July to look into Grand Sky, a 1.2 million-square-foot park.

Already, defense technology company Northrop Grumman last month signed a lease to become the park’s lead tenant, finalizing a plan that had been in the works for years.

Among the unmanned aerial systems General Atomics produces are drones for military combat missions. The MQ-1 Predator drones are being flown by the North Dakota Air National Guard and MQ-9 Reaper planes are being used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Several graduates of the University of North Dakota aviation school are among the more than 6,000 employees for the San Diego-based company.

Northrop Grumman makes the RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, which is considered particularly valuable because it can conduct long-range missions, fly at 60,000 feet and roam in a particular area for 24 hours or more.

“I always have been a big believer in momentum, and someone like Northrop Grumman signing that lease, that’s momentum,” Cramer said.

The momentum continued this past week at an international trade show in Atlanta, where Grand Sky Development President Tom Swoyer said he received inquiries from seven companies. A handful of other businesses also have publicly expressed their interest, he said.

“The questions I heard were, ‘What do I have to do to get space, what’s the process, how fast can I get it, and what does it cost?'” Swoyer said.

In addition to the fledgling tech park, North Dakota is one six sites around the country testing unmanned aircraft and the only one to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly in expanded airspace. Airspace, Swoyer said, was the No. 1 topic at the Atlanta convention.”