Grand Sky Flying High as it Celebrates Five Years

Grand Sky Development Company, LLC (Grand Sky), the nation’s first commercial unmanned aerial system (UAS) testing and training center, is celebrating five years of successful operations and dramatic impact to the North Dakota economy. The sky’s the limit and the plans for the future are more exciting than the first five years.

Built to support large UAS operations, the services and capabilities at Grand Sky has logged over 2,300 UAS flight hours due to partnerships and agreements with Grand Forks Air Force Base. Located on the base, and operating under an Enhanced Use Lease and Joint Use Agreement with Grand Forks County and Grand Forks Air Force Base, Grand Sky provides flight schedule certainty because of uncongested airspace and a high number of flyable days per year.

“We saw a vision for Grand Sky, and in just five years, it’s rewarding to see the success and new opportunities happening in North Dakota; it’s all been made possible due to our partnerships throughout the State and funding from our legislators,” Grand Sky Development Co. President Thomas Swoyer Jr., said. “There is much to celebrate across the Red River Valley, not just in the advancements and capabilities at Grand Sky but in the UAS industry across the state.”

The State of North Dakota has invested $18.5 million in infrastructure, and Grand Sky secured another $60 million in private investments. These investments have created more than 160 full-time jobs with average annual salaries of $70,000. Each year, due to the capabilities at Grand Sky for UAS and beyond visible line of sight (BVLOS) operations, research, development, testing and training, over 600 trainees and meeting attendees visit the region with an average stay of five nights. This equates to more than $19.2 million in annual economic impact to the state.

Grand Sky is one of only a few facilities in the United States able to provide BVLOS flight capabilities for UAS. Companies using this system can operate their aircraft without the requirement of a chase plane or ground based observers which saves them considerable costs. As a result, Grand Sky supports General Atomics Aeronautical Systems’ flight operations which included the company’s first trans-Atlantic flight from Grand Forks to London in 2018.

The commercial UAS industry is changing and Grand Sky is poised to accelerate that change. In the near future, BVLOS flight operations will become common-place for many companies and routine BVLOS flight will require new aircraft and new procedures to be successful.  To help usher in those changes, Grand Sky is working with UAS manufacturers to bring large UAS to the commercial world.

“There is no point in securing BVLOS capability if you can only fly for 45 minutes or only cover 500 acres an hour,” Swoyer said. “For the UAS industry to truly achieve economies of scale, we need to fly for many hours and cover tens of thousands of acres an hour or else we’re all just wasting time. 

“The flights need to bring a higher level of data management and analytics in order to maximize the value of change detection and create actionable information. In the near future, we need to bring large UAS into the commercial UAS industry to realize these new requirements,” Swoyer added. “Small UAS have a role but large UAS will define how the industry realizes the promise of UAS technology.”

Grand Sky plans to host a series of demonstrations this spring and later in the summer to demonstrate how large UAS will change the industry. 

“We see these demonstrations as a way to unequivocally show how large UAS will forever change the UAS industry and deliver actionable information to a wide variety of end users quickly and very inexpensively,” Swoyer concluded.

About Grand Sky

Grand Sky is the first commercial UAS-focused business park in the United States. Located on Grand Forks Air Force Base near Grand Forks, North Dakota, the 217-acre business and aviation park provides unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry tenants with unmatched research, development, training testing amenities, including authorization for large UAS BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) flights in partnership with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site. Grand Sky offers 1.2 million square feet of hangar, office, shop, laboratory and data collection space available on a build-to-suit basis with financing available.

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