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Live From A UAS Tech Park Event

By Luke Geiver | February 19, 2015

We are standing amongst a mass of people, most of whom we’ve never met or seen, waiting for the start of an once-in-a-lifetime procession to start. We are in an airplane hangar, Patrick Miller, myself and hundreds more, at the official enhanced use lease signing between the Grand Forks, North Dakota Air Force Base, Grand Forks County and the Grand Sky business park. Once signed, the County and Grand Sky will begin the process of building out an unmanned aircraft systems business and tech park. The site, once finished, will include 219-acres, employ roughly 3,000 and provide an unprecedented amount of airspace and runway to any UAS firm—large or small—looking to test, fly or develop a UAS application. As we stand waiting, the television cameras and professional photographers are unfolding tripods and checking mics. Faces in the crowd seem to all be smiling, even with the cold air of the hangar lingering around us, the warm air fans high above clearly not enough to allow us to take our jackets off for any length of time. Outside, it is 20 degrees below zero and the prairie wind is blowing hard.

In the hangar, most of the crowd is facing the same direction. To our backs, a parked Globalhawk is roped off and in plain view for everyone there, a reminder of the incredible accomplishments that are being achieved every day in the UAS world outside of the civilian marketplace. On either side of the Globalhawk, smaller UAVs are parked, also roped off, also there as the near-perfect prop for the day’s events.

In the middle of the hangar, a stage the size of a house has been placed. A U.S. flag, the size of the side of a building, hangs above the stage, the red and white stripped coloring impossible to ignore with no speakers on the stage. A single podium is situated to the far left side of the stage and basic folding chairs are lined up behind the podium on the middle of the stage, each chair set-up for Air Force dignitaries and North Dakota’s highest ranking government officials including the Governor, both senators and the state’s lone representative.

When the event starts and the dignitaries and officials are all situated on the stage, many of us are seated in rows of 25. On the outskirts of the crowd, the photographers and video takers hustle past each other for shots of the speakers. In the media section, reporters and writers from local and major stations or publications are there. I start to take notes but stop soon after, realizing it is best to hit record on my recorder and simply take in the event as it happens. Miller has staked claim to the closest stage position to snap photo after photo. Later, after the event is over, he is the last photographer still shooting and as we reviewed some of the shots this morning, we are thankful he was.

After each speaker finishes, it becomes more and more apparent that the Grand Sky UAS tech park was not easy to pull-off. It is also clear that it will also offer opportunities to the UAS world that might not be duplicated in any other way or place. By the time the last speaker has finished, many have put their coats back on, but somehow, the hangar feels comfortable and right for such an occasion, and for reasons related to the significance of the day, it seems as if none of us there for the historic UAS signing will remember much,  or ever care, about the cold.