General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. has announced the successful first flight of a company-owned Predator A at the company’s new Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Flight Training Academy in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
“This first flight represents a significant milestone for our new Training Academy, further demonstrating our company’s capability to conduct UAS training operations safely and seamlessly within the National Airspace System,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “Our first class is already underway, and students progressed to the flight training portion of the syllabus today.”
First flight festivities included remarks from U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), Cathy Peterson (Office of U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND); District Representative Randy Richards (U.S. Representative Kevin Cramer, R-ND); Al Anderson, Commissioner of North Dakota Department of Commerce; Tom Swoyer, President and Partner, Grand Sky Development Company; U.S. Air Force leadership; and GA-ASI executives.
“GA-ASI’s Flight Training Academy adds another layer to the good work happening at Grand Sky business and aviation park,” said Hoeven. “Right here in North Dakota, we’re leading the way in UAS research and development as well as the training of the pilots of the future. We’ve worked to make the Grand Forks region a hub for UAS innovations, and with industry leaders like GA-ASI, Grand Sky is paving the way in UAS development.”
“I congratulate CEO Linden Blue for the exceptional commitment he and his colleagues at GA-ASI have made to advance the groundbreaking frontier of unmanned aerial systems,” said Cramer. “Today’s first flight at the UAS Flight Training Academy in Grand Forks is another milestone showcasing an extraordinary partnership. GA-ASI, the Air Force, and local public and private organizations are developing Grand Sky into the world’s epicenter of the dynamic field of unmanned aerial systems.”
The mission of GA-ASI’s Training Academy is to provide safe, effective, and cutting-edge flight training for international and domestic aircrew operating the company’s aircraft. As an additional benefit, the Training Academy also can serve to augment U.S. Air Force RPA training programs. Training for GA-ASI aircrews began in early July 2016 and is now open for students external to GA-ASI as well.
“This is yet another monumental day for Grand Sky, GA-ASI, North Dakota, and the entire UAS industry,” said Swoyer. “After four years of development, large commercial UAS are flying from Grand Sky, marking one more step toward fully integrating commercial UAS into the national airspace.”
Classroom and simulator instruction will take place at Training Academy classroom facilities located in the city of Grand Forks. Flight Instruction will occur at temporary facilities located at the Grand Sky UAS business and aviation park adjacent to Grand Forks Air Force Base. Construction of a state-of-the-art, 16,000 square-foot Flight Operations Center began in November 2015 and is expected to conclude in Spring 2017.
The Academy will operate year-round, create many new jobs in North Dakota, offer multiple courses, and provide training for dozens of students at a time.