Altavian kicks off UAV manufacturing at North Dakota facility

By Patrick C. Miller | May 28, 2015

The first Altavian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to roll off the company’s new assembly line run by ComDel Innovation in Wahpeton, North Dakota, was donated to the Fargo Air Museum in recognition of its significance to the state’s aeronautical history.

The next one might soon be flying over North Dakota farm fields and oil and gas pipelines conducting research for Unmanned Applications Institute International (UAI), a company based in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Doug McDonald, UAI director of special projects, said the company has been working with Altavian for about four years and is in line for a Nova F6500 being manufactured by ComDel. He said UAI plans to obtain a Section 333 exemption from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to use the UAV for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) research.

“Our intent is to start using the aircraft for a multitude of research for agriculture and oil and gas infrastructure activities, which are two major pillars of North Dakota’s economy,” McDonald said. “It’s a real nice fit with unmanned systems. Altavian and UAI have been working with universities to push and promote UAS curriculum that will bring students into the fold as the industry takes off.”

According to Altavian, the Nova F6500 is an all-electric UAV that provides precision 3D mapping and real-time thermal infrared and high-definition video capabilities. The system deploys with minimal logistics because of its waterproof, lightweight and hand-launchable design.

McDonald said Altavian’s engineering group will continue to operate from its headquarters in Gainesville, Florida, while the manufacturing will occur in North Dakota.

ComDel’s manufacturing services include precision component fabrication, molding, tooling and stamping dies, injection molding, metal stamping, assembly operations and metal finishing.

Altavian CEO John Perry said, “Altavian is in North Dakota to build a professional and safe commercial drone business, and we are committed to growing the jobs and economic benefits this emerging industry has to offer.”

Last week, an event was held at the ComDel plant in Wahpeton to mark the completion of the first Altavian UAV off the assembly line. It was attended by North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who heads the state’s UAS program; Don Larson, chief of staff and state director for U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.; North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring; North Dakota Commerce Commissioner Al Anderson; Wahpeton Mayor Meryl Hansey; Comdel CEO Jim Albrecht; and Perry.

Hoeven worked with the companies to bring together public and private leaders from around the state.

“Today marks an important step forward for the UAS industry in North Dakota,” Hoeven said. “We have worked to bring together many partners to help establish our leadership in UAS research, development and manufacturing. That means good-paying jobs for our people and innovative, new technologies with applications in agriculture, border security and many other areas”

Albrecht said, “We are very excited to fill this role in the UAS ecosystem, helping to bring new business opportunities to our state and securing the state’s leadership in this industry. We are grateful to Altavian for partnering with us to make North Dakota-manufactured UAS a reality.”

McDonald said UAI recognized Altavian as a top company after conducting a study on 25 different UAV manufacturers, which led to the ongoing relationship between the companies and establishing a facility in North Dakota.

“If it’s good for the industry, it’s good for us,” McDonald said. “We’re excited to have a UAS manufacturer in North Dakota.”


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