A Step Toward Integration

Two Customs and Border Protection MQ-9s operating from Grand Forks AFB, N.D., became the first remotely piloted aircraft to fly together in the same unrestricted airspace, according to a base release. This milestone was “a stepping stone” to help the Federal Aviation Administration integrate RPAs into the national airspace, said TSgt. Nick Stegman, assistant chief controller with Grand Forks’ 319th Operations Support Squadron. The Aug. 1 flight of the MQ-9 pair marked the first time FAA authorized two RPAs to operate simultaneously in a traffic pattern of unrestricted airspace, states the Aug. 7 release. “To be first to have two unmanned aircraft in the same airspace is something we wanted to do for a while,” said Jeffrey Deem, CBP’s lead flight operations specialist. “Having that restriction off, we are able to have positive outcomes for both the Air Force and Customs and Border Protection,” he added. (See also FAA Picks Remotely Piloted Aircraft Test Operators.)