UND’s UAS program soars to new heights with national and international interest

It’s becoming a common reaction around the University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences lately.

That mildly surprised expression on the face of newcomers as they gaze for the first time upon the network of interconnected multi-storied futuristic buildings that form the main aerospace school complex.

It’s a look that says ? “It’s more than we expected.”

And that’s not even the half of it, as they soon find out. Eventually, they also discover the massive UND Aerospace presence at Grand Forks International Airport, where UND operates even more facilities and the world’s largest nonmilitary fleet of aircraft, and a third aerospace site on the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Since 2011, many of these first-timers have been national and international reporters ? who otherwise had never heard of UND ? who’ve flocked to the school to see and to report on its surging unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) program.


Big time media

A review by aerospace officials shows that, since July 2011, 60 documented media engagements have taken place involving UND’s Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research, Education and Training.

Ninety percent of those media visits were by national and international journalists or media developers outside of North Dakota and Minnesota.


e’re talking folks from The Washington Post, London Times, Wall Street Journal, NBC Rock Center with Brian Williams, CBS Sunday Morning Show, Time Magazine, CNN and CNN International, BBC World Service Radio, French TV, Korean Broadcasting Station, Turkey TV Stations, German ARD Television Network, Channel One Russia, and the Italian magazine L ‘Espresso, to name a few.

Pretty impressive for a division that has no dedicated media relations staff to handle the throng.

UND UAS officials also have been known to take their message on the road to interested parties around the world.

In fact, this week, UND officials, along with representatives of a UAS private industry partner are meeting with Kazakhstan’s ambassador to the U.S. in Washington, D.C.

“We’re just very proud that our UAS program is getting similar recognition now to what our airplane and helicopter training programs have always deservedly received,” said Al Palmer, director of UND’s UAS center.

Come to UND last

It’s hard to know what notions these reporters and first-time visitors have about Grand Forks, N.D., or UND Aerospace. Maybe they envision a warehouse, a hangar or two and a couple of planes ? who knows?

“That’s why we tell people who’ve never been here to go everywhere else first and then come to us, so they can see the difference,” Palmer said. “People think we’re this small flight school on the prairie; they really don’t understand its magnitude until they come here and see it for themselves.”

Oliver Routhe Skov, a broadcast journalist from Denmark, said he had a sense of what UND Aerospace was like from a recent New York Times story he’d read about the school’s UAS program, still he was impressed with what he found when he actually got on campus.

He and Danish videographer Marie Klar visited UND Aerospace in late June to produce a segment for a larger piece on UAS development in America. The show was destined for what Skov described as the “60 Minutes of Denmark.”

Their reporting took them to places such as Washington, D.C., New York City, Illinois, Iowa and a town in rural Virginia that had recently banned the use of UAS out of privacy concerns.

At points along the way, Skov said, UND’s UAS program kept coming up in conversations with other UAS industry contacts.

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