Nation’s first UAS commercial park performs first drone flight

By Luke Geiver | September 10, 2015

For Tom Swoyer, president of Grand Sky Development Co., it is the people that have asked the question, “why not?” that have made all of the difference in making the nation’s first unmanned aircraft systems business park a reality. During a cool morning set amongst the backdrop of flatland agriculture fields, a highway to the south and the Grand Forks Air Force Base to the north, Swoyer addressed a large group of dignitaries, military leaders and industry representatives, thanking many for bringing the UAS commercial park to life. Roughly 900 days after first attempting to make an enhanced use lease agreement work between a North Dakota County and the GFAFB, the physical renderings—now under construction—were real.

Swoyer was standing under the roof of a white tent set-up on a massive piece of pavement stretching far into the horizon. The pavement, once used by GFAFB, will now be integrated into Grand Sky following the groundbreaking ceremony that was taking place amidst the sounds of the construction crew in progress.

GrandSky01, the first flight cleared for take-off, represents the first UAV flight from the park. Although Sky Skopes, a Grand Forks-based firm may have been flying a small multirotor, the park will someday be the home to some of the world’s largest UAV platforms.

Through the enhanced use lease formed through the county, the base and Swoyer’s team, Colonel Rodney Lewis, commander, 319th air base wing at GFAFB, said the future of the base is promising.

Governor Jack Dalrymple, told the crowd that the groundbreaking ceremony proves that the state’s UAS industry “has arrived and is underway.” To date, Dalrymple’s office and the state have invested roughly $34 million into direct and indirect funding to the Grand Sky park.

The EUL provides Grand Sky with 217 acres for 50 years. The park will share a runway with the base. The taxiway should be complete next year. According to the Grand Sky team, the facility will be fully leased by 2025.

Construction of the current facility has created roughly 200 jobs, but over the life of the park, nearly 3,000 full-time jobs will be created.

The park, anchored by Northrop Grumman, will also include hangar space, office, shop, laboratory and data center space on a build-to-suit basis with financing available.