AV News: North Dakota - Silicon Valley of Drones

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Description: AirVūz News made it up to Grand Forks, North Dakota to cover the UTM development work that local companies were collaborating with NASA on, you can find that story HERE. What we ended up learning, aside from the interesting elements of what goes into developing an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Traffic Management system, is that North Dakota seems to be the epicenter of the Drone industry in the United States. Watch this video to learn the factors contributing to North Dakota's rise to the top of the UAS industry, earning it the moniker: "Silicon Valley of Drones."

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When AirVūz News traveled to Grand Forks, North Dakota to cover how NASA is doing UTM research there, also known as UAV Traffic Management, we were astonished by how well the drone industry is flourishing. All of the people we met were familiar with the new North Dakota moniker: calling it the “Silicon Valley of Drones” because of the rich ecosystem for UAS businesses…But what exactly makes it so extraordinary?
Firstly, there is the University of North Dakota, also known as UND. It’s a trailblazing university in Aerospace and pilot training with a rich history in aviation. UND was the first college in the country to offer a four year UAV piloting degree program to students, so there is no shortage of well-trained local pilots.
SkySkopes Pilot Andrew Schill: "I declared my major in 2010 in unmanned aircraft systems here at University of North Dakota. The program at UND is really excellent, I enjoyed it very thoroughly. You do go through your manned pilots license first and then there is UAS classes associated with that, but it transitions between smalls and something like the ScanEagle. They have a ScanEagle course, that was a lot of fun as well."
Andrew Schill is one of many locally trained expert UAV pilots who stuck around Grand Forks after graduating, and he now works for SkySkopes, whose offices are located right one campus.
CEO of SkySkopes Mike Dunlevy: “So, we started in the Center of Innovation here, which is the single largest cluster of UAS startups in the Country. We were in an office in another wing and we expanded, we got too many unmanned aircraft for that office so this used to actually all be cubicles and we had to move all the cubicles out so that we could accommodate a flight lab essentially.”
Having this hotspot for UAS companies collected under one roof at UND makes it the go to destination for big companies to do business.
Mr. Dunlevy: “We’ve worked alongside the United States Air Force, we’ve worked with Microsoft, We’ve done work for GE, Xcel Energy… A lot of the big name brands around North Dakota in the Utility industry.”
“We were the first small UAS company to get our 333 in the state of North Dakota. You know we’ve been pioneering a lot of the industry on the small UAS side, first to get night operations, first to get some special COAs ,(Certificate of Authorization) first to fly on a United States Air Force Base, – out at Grand Sky.
Right now we focus primarily on using small UAS for specifically the energy industry in North Dakota.”
Always innovating their services, Sky Skopes is even getting into the education realm…
Mike Dunlevy: “We have an online Part 107 course that, so far, everyone who’s taken it has passed their FAA written exam and is now a Part 107 Certified Pilot to go and fly aircraft under 55 pounds commercially.”
There’s no shortage of airspace to train and test aircraft in North Dakota, with more than 13,000 square miles of it suitable for UAS operations. With the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, along with Grand Sky: America's First UAS Business & Aviation Park, North Dakota is the home to one of only 6 FAA approved sites in the country.
Doug McDonald, Director of Special Projects for UAII, showed us around the Drone park, which is currently undergoing a bit of a face-lift! Doug – “Behind us, directly behind us is Northrup Grumman, I think you can see a lot of activity here on the airfield itself.”
Doug – “There’s a lot of infrastructure underneath that we don’t see: fire suppression, data communications, electricity, redundant power…Kind of that full gamut that, you know, the big boys are going to need ultimately to conduct operations here.

Another huge reason North Dakota is enticing people to come from all over the country to do business is thanks to the states government.
Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford: “As a state we’ve invested over 43 million dollars to advance UAS research and development, and we’re collaborating with organizations state-wide to build this emerging industry. The future for UAS in North Dakota is very bright.”
Their low taxes and business friendly policies has made North Dakota America’s #1 overall economic growth performer since the year 2000 according the US Chamber of Commerce. State grant programs even match funds from industry/academia research to further incubate the UAS industry.
Grand Forks is regarded as an epicenter of unmanned aircraft activity by those within the industry, and all signs point to more prosperity in the future.
At AirVūz News, I'm Angie Avestruz

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