Vantis has selected Thales USA as its system integrator for North Dakota’s unmanned aerial systems (UAS) network that is being developed as the first statewide system to allow unmanned aircraft to operate beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) in the U.S. BVLOS operations are considered the “holy grail” among UAS operators as it permits longer-range UAS missions.
“It would be equivalent to flying VFR versus flying IFR, so what we’re doing here is enabling IFR operations in the equivalent space of unmanned aircraft,” said Trevor Woods, interim director of the Northern Plains UAS test site, which is home to Vantis. Speaking at a press conference on Monday at NBAA-BACE 2021, he described the radar and communications network that enables BVLOS operations as “much like how your cellphone roams from tower to tower as you traverse the network, drones will do the same thing with Vantis.”
The North Dakota program has received more than $50 million in funding since it launched in 2019 and is expected to support UAS applications in oil and gas, public safety, law enforcement, and more. “The state of North Dakota has taken on the investment and identified the opportunity to expand the envelope,” said Woods, adding that takes the financial burden off the industry to establish the necessary infrastructure.
“Commercialization is where we want to get to in the UAS industry,” added Frank Matus, Thales’ director of ATC and digital aviation solutions. “Building a single system that multiple users and the aviation community can leverage for their operations really makes this a unique deployment and something that we think is going to be the gold standard for UAS integration, not only in the United States but globally.”
Matus described the progress made over the past year going from greenfield sites across the state to installing three radar systems, four ADS-B ground stations, and a command and communications network in the field, while also standing up a mission and operations center and cloud solution that will serve as the backup for the mission network operation capability. “Really one of the first deployments of its kind anywhere in the world,” he said.
The development thus far has been mainly in the western side of the state, but with a new round of state funding the infrastructure is set to expand into the eastern part.