The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted the North Dakota Department of Commerce a certificate of waiver or authorization (COA) to begin using a Draganflyer X4ES small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) at the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site. In late December 2013, the FAA named the state's commerce department one of six national UAS test site operators.
According to the FAA, the test site is up and running more than two-and-a-half months ahead of the deadline specified by Congress. The North Dakota team plans to begin flight operations during the week of May 5, and the FAA says that the COA is effective for two years.
The main goal of this site's initial operations, the agency reports, is to show that UAS can check soil quality and the status of crops in support of North Dakota State University/Extension Service precision agriculture research studies.
While supporting the precision agriculture project, the FAA notes that the test site will also collect safety-related operational data needed for UAS airspace integration. The FAA adds that the information will help it analyze current processes for establishing small UAS airworthiness and system maturity, and maintenance data collected during site operations will support a prototype database for UAS maintenance and repair.
The North Dakota COA covers two separate geographical locations, the agency says. Initial flights will be conducted over North Dakota State University's Carrington Research Extension Center, located in Carrington.
A second set of missions, scheduled for this summer, will fly over Sullys Hill National Game Preserve near Devils Lake.