LOGISTICS AND MAINTENANCE
Northrop Grumman Expanding its Unmanned Aerial Systems Facility in North Dakota (UPDATED)
Photo: Northrop Grumman
Less than a year after Northrop Grumman opened the doors to its new unmanned aerial systems facility in North Dakota, the company will soon break ground on a new hangar to conduct testing and maintenance on its family of autonomous systems.
The company in April announced the opening of its new facility at the Grand Sky Unmanned Aerial Systems Business and Aviation Park near Grand Forks. The facility serves as a "nucleus" for research and development, pilot, operator and maintainer training, as well as operations and mission analysis and aircraft maintenance, according to Northrop.
Before the end of the summer, Northrop will start work on a new hangar that will allow it to take advantage of the proximity of Grand Forks Air Force Base's remotely piloted aircraft squadron, David Hambleton, Grand Sky program manager and site lead, said in an interview with National Defense.
Northrop leased 10 acres of land from the Air Force to build the recently opened facility and the 35,000 square-foot hangar, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2018, he said. Flight testing and aircraft maintenance for the company's family of autonomous systems will begin by the following year, he added.
The company's facility in North Dakota will be an "offshoot" of its autonomous systems division in San Diego, California, he said. "In one place, we have access to both civil and restricted airspace [and] opportunities to collaborate with the universities nearby" such as the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University, he said.
The Grand Sky team will have the ability to link different capabilities "through a modeling and simulation backbone," he added. "We'll be able to tie together system testing in a lab with monitoring mission data as it comes in, connecting to training simulators and linking them together in a technical way to enable new ways to doing what, in the past, we've done independently or separately."
The FAA-designated Northern Plains unmanned aerial systems test site is also located in Grand Forks, and the Air Force's fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft, produced by Northrop, is based next door, he noted.
"Having all of these capabilities and infrastructure concentrated here makes Grand Sky a desirable place for us to pursue flight testing and system demonstration," he added.
Northrop expects to perform flight testing and maintenance for the Global Hawk fleet at Grand Sky, but also intends to support other unmanned systems such as the Navy's forthcoming MQ-4C Triton surveillance aircraft or the MQ-8 Fire Scout reconnaissance helicopter, he added.
Northrop Grumman's new unmanned aerial systems facility
in Grand Forks, North Dakota (Northrop Grumman)
The Grand Sky Park, for which Northrop Grumman is the anchor tenant, hosts several commercial tenants with ties to unmanned aerial systems, including General Atomics, Hambleton said. Northrop committed over $10 million to the initial Grand Sky project, and its initial 36,000 square-foot facility was completed in late 2016, he added.
The company expects to employ 100 people by the end of 2017, with a mix of current Northrop employees coming from San Diego and other locations, and new hires from the North Dakota area, he noted.
Northrop began to grow its involvement in the Grand Forks area around 2013, Hambleton said.
The local community and the state of North Dakota were interested in developing the unmanned aerial systems industry in the Red River Valley region, he said. A group of local actors that included the University of North Dakota and Grand Forks County developed the Red River strategic alliance agreement.
"Northrop Grumman signed on to this agreement to promote the UAS industry," he said. "That set the stage for the goal of creating… the Grand Sky aviation business park for UAS."
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated when the hangar's construction is expected to be complete.