Mar. 27 -- With about 250 players in the budding unmanned aircraft industry in the Alerus Center on Monday, UND officials took the opportunity to showcase the university and, more specifically, the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
Attendees included representatives from defense contractors, such as Northrop Grumman and General Atomics, and top military officials like Brig. Gen. Paul Dettmer, who serves as assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the Air Force.
In a late afternoon presentation, Aerospace Dean Bruce Smith made a pitch to garner support for the university's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence. U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan described UND as part of a four-way flurry of unmanned aircraft activity that centers on Grand Forks.
The other three parts include Grand Forks Air Force Base, Homeland Security's air wing in Grand Forks and the North Dakota Air National Guard's Happy Hooligans -- entities that all will be using unmanned aircraft in the near future.
"We are right in the hub of all the activity that's occurring in this particular area," Dorgan said.
Unmanned aircraft are widely considered the future of aviation. In his presentation, Smith said he believes unmanned aircraft will become "the overwhelming choice for nonpassenger aviation" in the next 10 to 15 years.
Smith and UND officials have big plans for the center's role in shaping the future of the UAS industry. "We want to develop and provide training for everyone who touches an (unmanned aerial vehicle)," Smith said.
In 2006, the university was able to leverage $1 million in funding that was secured by Dorgan and turn that into $5.6 million in funding for unmanned aircraft research. In the year ahead, Smith said that number has the potential to be even larger.
He said Dorgan has secured $3 million in Department of Defense funding. The school will attempt to secure another $3 million from private industry to match that funding and another $3 million in state money.
"Potentially, in 2007, we've got another $9 million to fund our programs," he said.
Center for Excellence
UND's UAS Center of Excellence team includes the Odegard School, the School of Engineering and Mines, the North Plains Center for Behavioral Research, and the Center for Innovation. With these partners, Smith said, the university has the ability to cover everything from human factors to commercialization of unmanned aircraft technology to the development of sensors and avionics.
He added that there are going to be a number of commercial unmanned aircraft applications as the technology advances. "Commercial applications for UAVs are going to be profound," he said.
However, one challenge facing the commercial development of unmanned aircraft technology is a general inability for unmanned aircraft to enter the national airspace.
To help deal with this issue, the university is proposing a 13,000-square-mile unmanned aircraft operations area in northeast North Dakota. The proposed airspace will feature no flight restrictions for general aviation aircraft, which would allow for testing and evaluation of unmanned aircraft. There is no area of this kind anywhere in the United States.
Monday's events at the summit concluded with tours of UND's aerospace facilities. Today, university officials will hold breakout sessions to discuss specific issues facing the UAS industry.
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