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First drone test site in U.S. operational

By Staff Reports on April 22, 2014

This maps shows selected unmanned aircraft systems operators, including the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Griffiss International Airport, the State of Nevada, Virginia Tech, the University of Alaska and Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that the first of six test sites chosen to perform unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research is operational more than 2.5 months ahead of the deadline specified for the program by Congress.

The FAA granted the North Dakota Department of Commerce team a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to begin using a Draganflyer X4ES small UAS at its Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site. The COA is effective for two years. The team plans to begin flight operations during the week of May 5.

“North Dakota has really taken the lead in supporting the growing unmanned aircraft industry,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “We look forward to the contributions they and the other test sites will make toward our efforts to ensure the safe and efficient integration of UAS into our nation’s skies.”

The main goal of this site’s initial operations is to show that UAS can check soil quality and the status of crops in support of North Dakota State University/Extension Service precision agriculture research studies. Precision agriculture is one of many industries that represent areas for UAS-industry expansion.

While supporting the precision agriculture project, the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site also will collect safety-related operational data needed for UAS airspace integration. The information will help the FAA analyze processes for establishing small UAS airworthiness and system maturity. Maintenance data collected during site operations will support a prototype database for UAS maintenance and repair.

“These data will lay the groundwork for reducing risks and ensuring continued safe operations of UAS,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “We believe the test site programs will be extremely valuable to integrating unmanned aircraft and fostering America’s leadership in advancing this technology.”

The North Dakota COA covers two separate geographical locations. Initial flights will be conducted over North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research Extension Center located in Carrington, N.D. The second set of missions, scheduled for the summer, will fly over Sullys Hill National Game Preserve near Devils Lake, N.D.

The FAA selected six test sites on Dec. 30, 2013. The FAA is working with the test sites to guide their research programs to help the FAA integrate UAS into the national airspace over the next several years.