GRAND FORKS-U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson tapped World War II Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold when describing where the unmanned aircraft industry was headed.
"Take everything you've learned about aviation in war and throw it out of the window, and let's go to work on tomorrow's aviation," she said Tuesday, Aug. 21, at the Alerus Center as she quoted the five-star Air Force general's quotes from the 1940s. "It will be different from anything the world has ever seen."
Wilson gave a history of unmanned aircraft in her keynote speech during the UAS Summit and Expo, an annual gathering of military personnel and business leaders in the industry. The conference that is in its 12th year also attracts local, state and federal leaders.
Wilson's remarks came the day after she and others witnessed the first unmanned aircraft flight to go beyond the line of sight without a chaser plane Monday at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site west of Grand Forks.
The milestone was three years in the making, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Tuesday. Hoeven, who invited Wilson to North Dakota, said watching the flight was fantastic, and it is a big step in UAS development and use.
The state's unmanned aircraft industry has attracted national leaders and attention, Hoeven said. The commercial and military sectors are developing and driving the future of aviation in Grand Forks County, he said.
"They are coming because we are doing very important work," he said of leaders coming to see the unmanned aircraft industry in North Dakota. "It really comes back to the importance of the work we're doing there."
The Air Force's use of unmanned aircraft has grown, Wilson said, from one combat air patrol drone flying the skies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to 60 unmanned aircraft today. The military branch's largest single group of pilots fly unmanned aircraft, she added.
"You are feeding an insatiable demand for unmanned aircraft capabilities," she said.
The U.S. cannot just have ideas, but it has to incorporate them into the military and develop them, Wilson said. The Air Force will work with allies, partners and industry to "drive forward the capabilities that we needs," she said.
"The United States Air Force has an unquenchable appetite for cutting-edge technology in order to defend our national interests," she said.