Military unmanned aerial vehicle takes to the Dakota sky

Published: Aug. 21, 2018 at 12:41 PM CDT
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While the Air Force has been flying unmanned aerial vehicle missions for several years, these were not in the regular national airspace.

Times are changing and former School of Mines President Dr. Heather Wilson, now the secretary of the Air Force, was back in the Dakotas Monday to witness that.

She was in Grand Forks to commemorate the launch of the first large UAV to fly in the regular airspace beyond the sight of the pilot and without a manned airplane to observe the plane.

The FAA now allows those UAVs to fly within 30 miles of the Grand Sky aviation technology park.

The flight was conducted by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which makes the MQ-9 Reaper (two squadrons of the Reaper are at Ellsworth Air Force Base); and other UAVs such as the MQ-1 Predator.

"One of the things this community has figured out is an air base is a piece of concrete, but it's airspace that makes it tremendously valuable,” Wilson said. “And the leadership shown here by the community, by the delegation, by the state leadership is taking advantage and building on that airspace to be able to test things for the future that makes this tremendously valuable."

General Atomics, has a contract with the military to upgrade the Reaper with extended range, better payload and beyond-line-of-sight control.