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Grand Forks AFB enables historic trans-Atlantic flight

An MQ-9B SkyGuardian glides beneath the clouds July 10, 2018, over Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Northrop Grumman Corporation, both tenants of Grand Forks AFB’s enhanced-use lease, launched the SkyGuardian with support of the 319th Operations Support Squadron. The SkyGuardian’s flight is the first trans-Atlantic flight for a high-altitude, long-endurance remotely-piloted aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez)

An MQ-9B SkyGuardian glides beneath the clouds July 10, 2018, over Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Northrop Grumman Corporation, both tenants of Grand Forks AFB’s enhanced-use lease, launched the SkyGuardian with support of the 319th Operations Support Squadron. The SkyGuardian’s flight is the first trans-Atlantic flight for a medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely-piloted aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez)

An MQ-9B SkyGuardian taxis on the Grand Sky Air Park flight line July 10, 2018, at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. The SkyGuardian made the first trans-Atlantic flight in avionics history for a high-altitude, long-endurance remotely-piloted aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez)

An MQ-9B SkyGuardian taxis on the Grand Sky Air Park flight line July 10, 2018, at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. The SkyGuardian made the first trans-Atlantic flight in avionics history for a medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely-piloted aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez)

Eric Johnson, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems program manager, thanks a crowd of community leaders and guests in attendance at the launch of an MQ-9B SkyGuardian from Grand Sky Air Park July 10, 2018, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. The launch marks the first trans-Atlantic flight for a high-altitude, long-endurance remotely-piloted aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez)

Eric Johnson, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems program manager, thanks a crowd of community leaders and guests in attendance at the launch of an MQ-9B SkyGuardian from Grand Sky Air Park July 10, 2018, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. The launch marks the first trans-Atlantic flight for a medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely-piloted aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D.— Grand Forks Air Force Base recently served as the launch site for the first trans-Atlantic mission by an MQ-9B SkyGuardian, which took off July 10, 2018.

Through an enhanced-use lease between Grand Forks Air Force Base and Grand Forks County known as the Grand Sky Aviation Park, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems coordinated with the base to launch the SkyGuardian to fly more than 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to Gloucestershire, England, for the Royal Air Force’s centennial celebration.

“This flight is a big deal,” said Douglas Brouwer, technical director with General Atomics. “It is the first-ever medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned flight. It represents the prelude to the future of avionics.”

General Atomics is one of two anchor tenants at Grand Sky on base, in addition to Northrop Grumman Corporation, another important community partner with great support to research and development, aircrew and maintenance training, operations and mission analysis, and aircraft maintenance in the local region.

Col. Benjamin Spencer, 319th Air Base Wing commander, says having an EUL with Grand Sky is meant to improve operational efficiency and innovation.

"Milestones like these are a prime example of what community partnerships like Grand Sky can accomplish," Spencer said. "As local industry flourishes alongside Grand Forks Air Force Base, it is beneficial to the entire local area through the addition of jobs and the advancement of unmanned aerial systems research and development. The work at Grand Sky, combined with the obvious mission synergy, drives innovation at Grand Forks Air Force Base as well. Bottom line…it makes us better. The advancements made at Grand Sky may eventually find their way into the hands of our Airmen allowing them to better defend America's interests at home and abroad."

The EUL, established in 2015, has provided Grand Forks AFB and its tenants the ability to grow together and become a successful model for other bases across the Unites States of America, to include a newly-approved EUL at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, where non-excess property was determined to be used for a research park with office, industrial, laboratory, retail and hospital facilities.

Tom Swoyer, Grand Sky Development Company president, explained how important the EUL has been regarding the success of UAS development.

“If Grand Sky wasn’t on Grand Forks AFB, I don’t think we would have been able to do any of this,” said Swoyer. “It’s because of the partnership with the 319th Operations Support Squadron, and the entire base, really, that allows it to happen.”

The estimated 20-hour, three-thousand-mile flight across the Atlantic is as a first in aviation history, setting a precedence for future missions, which not only reinforces one of Spencer’s priorities for Grand Forks AFB to bring the future faster, but the Air Force’s priorities to drive innovation.

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The SkyGuardian successfully landed July 11, 2018, at the Royal Air Force Fairford in Gloucestershire, U.K., after flying for 24 hours non-stop.