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Unmanned Innovation’s Deep North Dakota Roots

August 09, 2021 12:07 | Anonymous

By Nicole Ingalls-Caley

In early June, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site (NPUASTS) and Emerging Prairie co-hosted an event at Grand Farm to celebrate the state of North Dakota’s continued investment in Vantis, North Dakota’s statewide UAS network. Once complete, this first-of-its-kind initiative will enable UAS flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the pilot, across the entire state. 

In the morning, we invited local legislators to a coffee hour to mingle with NPUASTS staff and ask questions about this groundbreaking infrastructure in an informal setting. This was followed by a press conference to formally announce the $20 million in continued funding to build out Vantis across the state, particularly on the eastern side of the state. We provided lunch and then hosted a panel to discuss Vantis, followed by speakers discussing other unmanned innovations being developed right here in North Dakota. The day was capped off with demonstration flights by iSight Drone Services.

The panel included North Dakota Lieutenant Governor Brent Sanford; Bill Panos, the Director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation; Todd Donovan, the Vice President of Digital Aviation – Air Traffic Management for ThalesUSA; Tommy Kenville, CEO of iSight Drone Services, Jim Cieplak, Vantis Program Manager for NPUASTS; and our fearless leader Nicholas Flom, executive director of NPUASTS. Speakers included Dr. Paulo Flores, Assistant Professor, and John Nowatzki, Agricultural Machine Systems Specialist, both from the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at North Dakota State University (NDSU); David Dvorak, CEO of Field of View; and Tom Nickell, CEO of Mobile Recon Systems. 


“The event was an unequivocal success,” said Nicholas Flom. “We got great turnout, despite temperatures in the nineties, Lt. Governor Brent Sanford joined us for the press conference and the panel, we fielded great questions from local legislators, we highlighted the work of other UAS innovators in the state, and we got great press coverage. Honestly, we couldn’t have asked for more.” 


The success of this event – and of unmanned innovations in North Dakota – can be attributed to our location. North Dakota has deep entrepreneurial roots, and is a thriving UAS ecosystem today because local leaders, researchers, and visionaries have worked hard to make it so. This most recent funding is a continuation of these efforts and the belief that North Dakota can be – and is– on the cutting edge of new aviation technologies. 

We all know that if you value something, and you want it to grow, you invest in it. North Dakota has done that with unmanned innovation: 

  • Northern Plains UAS Test Site, one of only seven FAA UAS test sites in the nation
  • Grand Sky Business and Aviation Park
  • Dozens of small UAS companies right here in North Dakota
  • The first accredited UAS Operations major in the country, through the College of Aerospace at the University of North Dakota (UND)
  • Significant investment in UAS research at UND and the North Dakota State University (NDSU)

North Dakota has invested in the future of UAS, and Vantis is the fruit of that labor, poised to revolutionize the UAS industry while pulling in economic development opportunities and inspiring even greater innovation from within the state. This event gave us an opportunity to share the ways in which North Dakota has already positioned itself as a UAS ecosystem, and how Vantis will put us on the map as the epicenter of UAS development and innovation in the U.S. 


Progress on Vantis 

  • Key sites have been built in Williams and McKenzie counties 
  • Testing is underway to ensure safety and reliability 
  • First “official” flight on Vantis anticipated this fall 
  • Next sites are expected to be in the Red River Valley
  • Vantis deployment is based around existing use cases, and will continue to expand based on where users already are



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North Dakota Aviation Association

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