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Officials from Grand Forks County and the U.S. Air Force sign the Joint Use Agreement that grants Grand Sky tenants use of the Grand Forks Air Force Base runway. IMAGE: GRAND SKY

Grand Sky tenants granted use of Air Force Base runway

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Tenants at Grand Sky will be able to launch and recover both manned and unmanned aircraft from Grand Forks Air Force Base’s runway, thanks to a Joint Use Agreement (JUA) between the U.S. Air Force and Grand Forks County.

Established in 2015, Grand Sky is the nation’s first unmanned aerial systems business and aviation park. Small UAS flights started at the park in September 2015. Large UAS tenants, including General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. and Northrop Grumman, are expected to commence flights later this year.

Grand Sky Development Co. President Thomas Swoyer Jr. says in a statement that while small UAS will continue to have a key role within the unmanned aircraft industry, the integration of large UAS into national airspace is a critical step forward in the industry’s overall growth and development. “Large UAS offer a multitude of capabilities that can’t be matched by small UAS in terms of flight duration, range, payload capacity and payload types,” Swoyer says. “Additionally, the Grand Forks JUA allows use of the runway for training purposes, which will allow our tenants the ability to offer in-demand UAS pilot training and help supply the industry with a needed workforce.”

The JUA is the result of an 18-month approval process and is a necessary step to allow shared use and responsibilities of the Air Force Base runway between the Air force, Grand Forks County and Grand Sky. The JUA for the Grand Forks Air Force Base is unique in that it allows manned, unmanned and optionally manned commercial aircraft to utilize the runway, according to Grand Sky.

While small UAS operator SkySkopes has been conducting flights at Grand Sky since September, General Atomics is expected to be the first Grand Sky tenant to utilize the Air Force Base runway. The company is currently constructing a temporary hangar on site and is expected to begin training UAS flight crews from around the world at the Grand Sky site this summer.

Additionally, Northrop Grumman is constructing a 36,000-square-foot facility at Grand Sky, expected to be complete later this year. It will be used for UAS research and training.