FAA Authorizes Flights at North Dakota UAV Test Range

 - April 21, 2014, 3:33 PM
The FAA issued a certificate of authorization to the North Dakota test range to fly the Draganflyer X4-ES. (Photo: Draganfly Innovations)

The FAA granted a certificate of authorization (COA) to the North Dakota Department of Commerce to fly the Draganflyer X4-ES quadcopter at the Northern Plains unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test range, the first of six national UAS test sites to begin operations. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced the authorization in Grand Forks on April 21.

The two-year COA covers two separate locations in the state. The Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority will conduct initial flights over North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research Extension Center near Carrington, N.D., starting the week of May 5, the FAA said. The objective is to demonstrate the helicopter’s utility for “precision agriculture” monitoring of soil quality and crop status. The authority will conduct a second set of missions this summer over Sullys Hill National Game Preserve on the south shore of Devils Lake, the state’s largest natural lake.

Manufactured by Draganfly Innovations, of Saskatoon, Canada, the lithium polymer battery-powered helicopter weighs less than five pounds when fitted with a gyrostabilized camera mount and Sony RX100 camera. It can also carry a forward looking infrared camera either separately or as part of a dual mounting system. The Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department also uses the aircraft under FAA authorization.

North Dakota Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D) and John Hoeven (R) accompanied Huerta in announcing the COA. Hoeven also revealed that Northrop Grumman will be the anchor tenant of the new Grand Sky UAS business and technology park at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

In December, the FAA announced that it had selected universities and other public entities in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia to operate six national UAS test sites, something Congress required in both the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act and National Defense Authorization Act. Entities in several other states will participate in the UAS testing through partnerships.