Drone over pipeline (Photo from ND.gov)

North Dakota building network for beyond-line-of-sight drone flights

Researchers in North Dakota are working on aviation-grade network services that will allow unmanned aerial systems to operate beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS).

Under a grant from the North Dakota Centers of Excellence Commission, Harris Corp. will work  with the University of North Dakota and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to develop the network infrastructure for a full range of UAS BVLOS operations. This funding is the continuation of a previous grant that included development and a risk and safety assessment of UAS detect-and-avoid technology, Harris officials said.

On Dec. 28, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration granted permission for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to conduct BVLOS flights from the Grand Forks, N.D., area. Northern Plains was the first of the original FAA-designated UAS test sites to receive a certificate of authorization for BVLOS operations. The UAS BVLOS network for North Dakota will be developed within the Grand Forks-to-Fargo corridor.

“By collaborating with the University of North Dakota and Harris, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site will have the opportunity to evaluate, develop and implement a UAS network and airspace services,” the test site’s Executive Director Nicholas Flom said. “This network will create a real-world environment for users to develop, test and certify new products and services.”

Harris said it wants to partner with local end users, such as railroads and electric utility companies, on UAS test scenarios. As the project continues, Harris said it expects to test BVLOS drones for railway inspection, roadway inspection, transmission line inspection, precision agriculture, public safety and emergency services, expanded flight operations and more.

Other states, like Ohio, are taking steps to upgrade their aviation infrastructure to prepare for BVLOS drone flights. The Ohio/Indiana Unmanned Aerial Systems Center, located at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, is working to implement a sense and avoid system for drones, according to the Dayton Business Journal. The system will initially be used by Air Force Research Laboratory, which partnered with the state and the Wright State Research Institute to fund the upgrade the airport’s technology to allow it to test UAS near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The facility will later be opened to businesses and researchers.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.


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