- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) - Officials on Monday broke ground for a $2.5 million drone training academy in North Dakota, at the nation’s first unmanned aircraft business park.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in September announced a 10-year lease to establish the academy at the Grand Sky facility, a 1.2 million-square-foot park at Grand Forks Air Force Base being funded by public and private money. Defense contractor Northrop Grumman also is a tenant, and broke ground on its facility last month.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who attended the Monday event, noted in a statement that “the Grand Sky Technology and Business Park hosts two of the world’s premiere UAS companies.”

California-based General Atomics manufactures the Predator and Reaper drones. The company plans a 19,400-square-foot hangar to house aircraft that will be used to train up to 100 students a year. The company is negotiating to offer training to pilots from six nations.

Construction is expected to be complete by next August. About 25 General Atomics employees will staff the academy during its first year of operation.

“North Dakota was selected as the site for our new training academy not only because it offers uncongested skies and an optimal test range, but also strong support for the continued development of unmanned aircraft capabilities from local, state, and federal government representatives,” General Atomics CEO Linden Blue said in a statement.

North Dakota is one of six drone test sites in the nation designated by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the first to establish a business park.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who also attended the Monday event, said in a statement that “General Atomics’ business presence at Grand Sky is a testament to the great work underway to build on North Dakota’s position as the premier destination for UAS research, development and commercialization.”

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