In February, a trade mission organized by the North Dakota Trade Office (NDTO) journeyed to Israel to seek import-export and investment opportunities for the state. As a result, Elbit Systems, Inc., an international high-tech company headquartered in Haifa, which focuses on defense and homeland security, will be conducting agricultural research with North Dakota State University (NDSU), beginning this summer. Throughout the growing season, Elbit is using its Hermes 450, a large fixed-wing drone, to study a test plot of farmland—40 miles long and 4 miles wide—near Cooperstown, North Dakota. The imaging technology on the Hermes allows the drone to fly high and cover large swaths of land as it generates infrared, thermal, color and multi-spectral images.

“Then very rapidly, the Hermes will provide data to growers about emerging diseases, beneficial pesticides, weed growth and reseeding opportunities,” said Lt. Governor Drew H. Wrigley in an interview. “Precision agriculture allows growers to make timely reactive and proactive decisions that will increase yield.”

Photo Caption:
Lt. Governor Drew H. Wrigley and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring beside a Hermes 450 at the Golden Heights test site in Israel.

Wrigley, who chairs NDTO, is encouraging Elbit to “expand their footprint into North Dakota at Grand Sky and consider venturing into the energy sector, disaster emergency response and infrastructure inspection.”

Three years ago, the Federal Aviation Administration chose North Dakota as one of six official drone test sites nationwide. At Grand Forks Air Force Base (GFAFB), the USAF, Air National Guard and border patrol pilot drones on surveillance and other classified missions. Located at GFAFB is Grand Sky, the nation’s first unmanned aerial systems (UAS) business and aviation park, where companies and government agencies can test unmanned aircraft in a wide range of climactic conditions (extreme heat and cold, and low to high wind) in an open airspace. North Dakota allows drone flights at night and up to 10,000 feet, in contrast to daylight only and ceilings as low as 200 feet elsewhere.

Last November, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., which produces Predator Reaper drones, broke ground for a $2.5-million training academy at Grand Sky to train UAS flight crews. A month earlier, Northrop Grumman, which makes the Global Hawk, broke ground for a 36,000 square-foot facility, which will be used for UAS research and training. †

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360 Review magazine, a publication of the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND, covers energy, agriculture, finance, culture and faith on the Northern Great Plains. Sign up for a complimentary copy of the latest issue today.

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360 Review presents in-depth inquiry, analysis and reflection on important issues, trends and events happening in and affecting this region; there is a special focus on North Dakota, where we are located.