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Officials working on making beyond visual line of sight network a reality in North Dakota

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 4:35 PM CST
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WILLISTON, N.D. - The future of aviation is being developed right here in North Dakota. One company has been tasked with creating a beyond visual line of sight network which could be a gamechanger for many industries.

The Northern Plains UAS Test Site has been working for more than three years to create a statewide drone network capable of flying beyond what the pilot on the ground can see. Infrastructure for the “Vantis” network was completed at sites in Williams and McKenzie Counties in the spring, and now Northern Plains is working to put it to the test.

“This, I think is very revolutionary for what we will see here in North Dakota. It opens up a lot of opportunities for the future generations and I like the idea of creating something high tech for North Dakota,” said Trevor Woods, Northern Plains UAS Test Site’s interim executive director.

Throughout the summer, Northern Plains has been performing “developmental” testing of Vantis. A few months ago, they moved to the next stage, which is “operational” testing, where they fly drones in a commercial setting.

“We’re flying, collecting as much operational data as we can, both on the aircraft flight side as well as from our mission and network ops center, and we will be providing all the data and the safety case to the Federal Aviation Administration for their approval,” said James Cieplak, Vantis program manager.

The network has attracted a number of entities looking to bring their drone services to North Dakota. The most recent being Workhorse Aerospace, which showed off their package delivery drone. Officials with Northern Plains said there are many uses that Vantis can provide.

“Pipeline inspection, transmission line inspection, wind turbine inspection, agricultural surveys. We’re here to support those folks and the work they do in making their UAS operations efficient,” said Danielle Miller, UAS operations leader.

Miller says testing will continue on a daily basis until the winter weather arrives for the season. Their main goal for next year is to work with the Federal Aviation Administration for approval and to continue to invite companies to North Dakota and showcase the future of aviation, right now.

Woods says testing will always continue throughout Vantis’s lifespan, but is hoping to start seeing some commercial use by the end of next year.

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