An unmanned aircraft that took off near Grand Forks is on pace to complete a historic flight to the United Kingdom.
The product of a partnership between Grand Sky and General Atomics Aeronautical evolved into plans for the first transatlantic medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft flight.
“We wanted to be the first MALE RPA to fly across the atlantic. It was kind of tying into the 90th anniversary of the transatlantic flight by Lindbergh,” said Doug Brouwer, the Technical Director for Global Atomics Aeronautical.
The flight also coincides with the hundredth anniversary of the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the United Kingdom.
Dozens of people looked on as the Sky Guardian prepared to embark on its journey across the pond to Fairford, a small town in the United Kingdom.
The flight’s directors say the aircraft’s technological advances should make for a smooth flight.
“We have dual satellite communications links and we actually have a line-of-sight link that we can use for takeoff as well, but then transiting through weather, just a little bit of the visibility, so that’s just some of the concerns, but it’s a robust aircraft, so we’re confident it will do well,” said Brouwer.
A four-person crew will control the aircraft on the ground in Grand Forks, but if this flight is successful, this will mean big things for the future of aviation in North Dakota.
“These aircraft can be used for a variety of different purposes because of their capability and their ability to stay aloft. It makes it very economical on a per-square mile covered basis, so that means North Dakota is going to be the center of the action for a little while,” said Tom Sowyer, the President of Grand Sky.
Sowyer says that the capabilities of the aircraft will help people beyond North Dakota.
“That means we can start to help cover California wildfires, we can start covering flooding in Texas or flooding in the Southeast, or hurricane recovery; we can do all that from Grand Forks now. We don’t have to send people into harm’s way, we can send the plane,” said Sowyer.
Senator John Hoeven released a statement about the flight, talking about how U.K. pilots are trained in Grand Forks while also praising the global impact of the work being done at Grand Sky.