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UAS Airspace Integration Test concludes at Grand Forks AFB
Atop a mobile stairs vehicle, Senior Master Sgt. David Lipp, signals he got the right shot by giving a thumb's up to members of multiple federal organizations posing for a group photo featuring both manned and unmanned aircraft from their respective organizations, Aug. 20, 2014, on the flightline of Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. The superintendent/photojournalist from the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Wing in Fargo, N.D., was asked to take the group photo as a way of commemorating the historic achievement of the first ever Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Integration Joint Test that took place Aug. 4-22, 2014. The Happy Hooligans from the 119th Wing, Detachment 1, a geographically separated unit on Grand Forks AFB, took part of the joint test. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Luis Loza Gutierrez)
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UAS Airspace Integration Test concludes at Grand Forks AFB

Posted 8/22/2014   Updated 8/22/2014 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Luis Loza Gutierrez
319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

8/22/2014 - GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Multiple federal agencies concluded the first ever Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airspace Integration Test in the country today here.

The test was designed to successfully integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System. It was a goal that was brought into greater focus within the American aviation community in 2012 when the Federal Aviation Administration created the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office to head up the multi-agency joint endeavor.

The test included approximately 100 uniformed and civilian team members from the FAA, the North Dakota Civil Air Patrol, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, active-duty Airmen here and Airmen assigned to the 119th Wing, Detachment 1, from the North Dakota Air National Guard.

"The units that participated in this test were all very professional and the execution was flawless," said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Erik Siegel, UAS Airspace Integration Joint Test chief.

Siegel attributed the success of the joint test to the flexibility demonstrated by the participating organizations.

"The success of this event is a testament to the collaborative efforts of all these organizations and countless number of people working together towards a common goal of taking our nation's unmanned aircraft systems program to the next level," he said.

"From those in some of the highest levels of our federal government, who generated support for this important program to the service members turning wrenches and inspecting aircraft so they're mission ready, this is something that all them can be proud of."

The UAS Airspace Integration Joint Test teams arrived on Grand Forks AFB on August 4 and began formal training for the joint test on August 10; however, the 319th Operations Support Squadron helped set the enthusiastic tone for the historic joint test by directly supporting another joint-agency milestone in unmanned aerial vehicle aviation on earlier in the month.

On August 1, the FAA authorized two UAVs to operate simultaneously in a traffic pattern of unrestricted airspace.

"This is the result of a year and a half of planning between the 119th [Wing], 69th [Reconnaissance Group], 319th OSS and [U.S. Customs and Border Protection]," said Tech. Sgt. Nick Stegman, 319th OSS assistant chief controller.

In further evidence of collaboration, the two MQ-9 Predator Bs that flew belong to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"To be first to have two unmanned aircraft in the same airspace is something we wanted to do for a while," said Jeffrey Deem, CBP lead flight operations specialist. "Having that restriction off, we are able to have positive outcomes for both the Air Force and Customs and Border Protection."

Monitoring the flight was Airman 1st Class Cole Nesbitt, 319th OSS air traffic control journeyman, and Senior Airman Kyle Thwing, 319th OSS air traffic controller. They both recognized the great responsibility they were taking on, as they were solely responsible for keeping the aircraft separate and avoiding a collision.

The test included multiple types aircraft both manned and unmanned such as RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40, a King Air 200 and a UC-35 Citation. The test was observed by several distinguished members of the UAS community to include Jim Williams, manager of the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office which, according to Aviation Week Magazine, has the extraordinary challenge of accomplishing the efficient and timely integration of UAS in the National Airspace System while balancing the political pressure and economic needs of the nation.

Prior to the successful test civilians from both the public and private sectors visited the base Aug. 13, 2014, to learn more about unmanned aircraft and how they could benefit each of their respective fields.

The group began the afternoon with a briefing by Lt. Col. Brent Dorsey, 348th Reconnaissance Squadron director of operations. Dorsey's presentation focused on the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40, a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system with an integrated sensor suite that provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability around the globe.

Dorsey explained how UAVs such as the Global Hawk complement manned and space reconnaissance systems by providing persistent near-real-time coverage using imagery intelligence and signals intelligence sensors.

Each group member was interested in the UAV program for unique reasons, ranging from peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief, to the greater cost-effectiveness and flexibility of operations UAVs offer.

(Articles by Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney and Staff Sgt. Susan Davis contributed to this story)

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