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Published April 17, 2013, 11:36 AM

Grand Forks County proposes test range for drone sensors

Grand Forks County wants to develop a test range for drone sensors somewhere in the county to help companies in the growing unmanned aircraft systems industry.

By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald

Grand Forks County wants to develop a test range for drone sensors somewhere in the county to help companies in the growing unmanned aircraft systems industry.

On Tuesday, county officials hired Jeffrey Donohoe Associates, a New Hampshire-based consulting firm, to conduct a feasibility study and develop a business plan.

The range would be used to test sensors for a variety of applications, such as those detecting the presence of diseases or chemicals on crops, or leaks in underground pipelines, or those aimed at law enforcement or military users, according to John Schmisek, chairman of the local Base Realignment Impact Committee.

It’s all part of an effort to establish a UAS technology and training complex on unused space at Grand Forks Air Force Base. If a lease is approved by the Air Force, such a park could be under construction by 2014.

The sensor test range could be located off the base anywhere in the rural part of the county, according to Schmisek, who also serves on the County Commission.

“It ties in with the (lease),” Schmisek said. “If we can establish the business park, then when we talk to some companies about locating here, they’ll know they have a place where they can test their sensors.”

Northrop Grumman, a major UAS developer, already has pledged to be a major tenant of the proposed tech park and to help get such a lease approved.

In a separate development, the Air Force will hold a public meeting 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Ramada Inn in Grand Forks to discuss the local base’s candidacy as the main operating base for the Air Force’s fleet of KC-46A flying tankers.

Grand Forks is a finalist and a decision is expected in May, although the aircraft are not expected to be delivered until 2016.

The Grand Forks base currently hosts Global Hawk UAS.

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